This is going to be a season of plays about Tennessee Williams in Chicago. In the Spring, the Raven Theatre will be producing Philip Dawkins' new play, THE GENTLEMAN CALLER about a meeting of Tennessee Williams and friend, rival and perhaps onetime lover, William Inge. Now at Pride Plays and Films, we have HIS GREATNESS, a well-crafted play about Tennessee Williams toward the end of his life; broke, depressed about the loss of his artistic power and desperate for spiritual and physical rejuvenation as well as a jump start to a failing career. Since Daniel MacIver is a Canadian playwright, it is not surprising that his play depicts Williams' visit to Vancouver in 1980. A theatre there is opening a new play of Williams--actually a revision of a recent script that failed in London. Williams (Danne W. Taylor), is there for the opening with his former lover who for fifteen years has been his assistant (Andrew Kain Miller). Actually, given Williams current psychological condition, the assistant is more of a caretaker to a self- destructive old man who is dependent on liquor and drugs to keep going. Their relationship is now like a bad marriage. Whatever love the assistant felt for the playwright has been lost but there is still a strong co-dependency. At one point the Assistant quotes Edward Albee, a gay playwright who was much more of a survivor than Williams. The relationship of Williams and assistant has become like something out of an Albee play. Enter the gorgeous hustler (Whitman Johnson), the assistant has hired to be Williams' companion at the opening. Williams sees the hustler as a new muse who will rekindle his imagination and the hustler foolishly thinks he has just gotten aboard a gravy train. He turns out to be a male Eve Harrington and manages to drive a wedge between Williams and his assistant. Like Tom in THE GLASS MENAGERIE, the Assistant, who also narrates the play, finally has to courage to escape.
Loneliness and financial desperation are the subjects of much of Williams work and MacIvor has given us a powerful picture of those forces at work in this Vancouver hotel room. In Vancouver Williams faces another horrible defeat but he is desperate to find a way back to life as an artist. One is reminded of that brilliant self-portrait of Williams, Alexandra del Lago in that Mississippi hotel room in SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH with her beautiful hustler. You don't have to know anything about Williams to enjoy this picture of dreams and a soured relationship but the echoes of Williams' work are there.
David Zak has been for decades the champion of gay drama in Chicago at Bailiwick Repertory and now at Pride Films and Plays. He has given the play the tone and rhythm it needs and gotten very good performances out of his actors. Danne W. Taylor and Andrew Kain Miller work well together as playwright and embittered assistant. This is a version of a bad marriage with both trying to break free but neither having anywhere to go. Handsome Whitman Johnson looks too healthy and needs some rough edges to be the hustler. He's a bit too sweet and refined but he captures the man's ruthlessness. Like Chance in SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, he's getting too old to continue as a hustler and dreams of getting out.
This production is well worth seeing. I was saddened by the very small audience last night. The play and production deserve a bigger audience.