Not everyone likes happy endings.
"Tennessee Williams always said, 'Sure, go see my films, but leave five minutes before the end,'" says Robert Bray, a Williams scholar and professor at Middle Tennessee State University. "The Production Code Administration required so many things to be changed, particularly at the endings of the plays that he was generally disappointed."
Themes about sexuality and morally ambiguous or ominous endings that were part of successful Broadway productions were often muted or altered in screen versions, though the films A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof were still very successful.
Bray is the co-author, along with Barton Palmer, of a book on screen versions of Williams' plays (Hollywood's Tennessee: The Williams Films and Postwar America). Both authors are regular panelists at the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival (March 19-23). At the scholarly portion of this year's festival, Bray sits on a panel discussion about recent books about Williams (9:30 a.m. Friday, Williams Research Center), and Palmer will discuss Williams' success on and off Broadway (1:30 p.m. Friday, Williams Research Center).
The festival includes a wide range of events, with productions of Williams' plays and lesser-known one acts, writing workshops, seminars on publishing and several events focusing on mystery and crime fiction. There also is programming about music, food and drink, walking tours, the annual Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest in Jackson Square and more.
There always are productions of Williams' plays in conjunction with the festival. Southern Rep mounted The Night of the Iguana (running through April 6) at the Art Klub, where it previously staged A Streetcar Named Desire. The NOLA Project presents Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, where the festival was originally hosted. The production uses Williams' final version of the play, finished in the mid-1970s. The original production, directed by Elia Kazan, was a hit on Broadway, and the landmark 1958 film version featured Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Burl Ives. NOLA Project director Beau Bratcher, who directed The Night of the Iguana at the festival in 2010, notes that subsequent versions of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof also featured star-studded casts, including Laurence Olivier and Natalie Wood and Tommy Lee Jones and Jessica Lange, but they didn't live up to the first version.
In The NOLA Project production, Bratcher focuses on the issues of family and legacy, as Big Daddy and Big Mama try to steer their son Brick to take over the family estate, which his wife Maggie also wants.
"Maggie grew up with nothing and wants to live a life of leisure," Bratcher says. "But all the characters are trying to attain and hold onto a life that they hope will ultimately be their legacy."
Other productions include a trio of one acts being presented at the Hermann-Grima House as The Hotel Plays, featuring works that Williams set in hotels and boarding houses. Rick Foster's play Vivien is a biopic about Vivien Leigh, who won Oscars for her starring roles in A Streetcar Named Desire and Gone With the Wind. There's also a reading of Father, winner of the festival's one-act play contest. Visit the website for the full schedule.
Crime fiction is the subject of several panels and events. The Pinckley Prizes (5 p.m. Saturday, Beauregard-Keyes House), named for the late Times-Picayune columnist Diana Pinckley, debut this year and recognize crime novels and authors. There's also a tribute (8 p.m. Saturday, Hotel Monteleone) to the late crime writer Elmore Leonard, who was born in New Orleans. Laura Lippman speaks on crafting a narrative voice in crime fiction (1:30 p.m. Thursday, Historic New Orleans Collection).
The festival concludes with its popular annual shout out to Williams, the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest in Jackson Square (4:15 p.m. Sunday), a couple of blocks from where Williams once lived and worked on A Streetcar Named Desire.