The great Tennessee Williams, unsurpassed poet of the theater and incisive chronicler of the human soul, was born 100 years ago this March. No surprise then that we are likely to see a slew of his work produced on our stages in his centenary year. In New York, we’ve already had productions of his lesser known Vieux Carré and The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. Now we have a particularly unusual offering in the New Group and Tectonic Theater Project’s production of One Arm, based on an unproduced Williams screenplay. The production, currently playing at Theater Row, is adapted and directed by Moisés Kaufman, who’s best known for the plays Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, The Laramie Project, and the Tony-nominated 33 Variations. Kaufman also recently directed Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, currently playing on Broadway. The Venezuelan born director/playwright talked to The House recently about his labor of love, bringing this little known Williams work to the stage.
How did you get interested in One Arm?
I found it in a collection of screenplays about 10 years ago and I remember being immediately struck by its frankness. When Williams is depicting gay life in the ’40s, ’50s, or ’60s, for obvious reasons, his gay characters always end up very badly: Blanche DuBois’s boyfriend commits suicide off-stage [A Streetcar Named Desire], Paul Newman ends up married to Elizabeth Taylor [the movie version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof], and in Suddenly Last Summer, Sebastian ends up being eaten by cannibals. This screenplay is really about the kind of homosexual underground in which Tennessee Williams lived. The story is based, supposedly, on a hustler, who had one arm, who he knew in New Orleans, who was incredibly beautiful and who resembled the statue of Apollo. Obviously it was autobiographical because he met this hustler, but it was also personal because toward the end of his life most of his sexual encounters were with hustlers. It was the frankest portrayal of that world that I had seen from Williams. I was very moved and very excited by that.
Didn’t he write it originally as a short story?