Taking time off from his role as Artistic Director of Jermyn Street Theatre, Gene David Kirk talks to us about his role directing the upcoming world premiere of the 1980 Tennessee Williams play A Cavalier for Milady at the Cock Tavern, middle-American morality, and finding ways around Nijinsky.
DBY: Now I guess the question some people will be thinking is – why hasn’t this play been put on before? And this is the question that hangs over this period of Tennessee Williams’ work, and I hope to spend the rest of interview dispelling this, but the suggestion that in his latter years he went through a period of decline. So firstly, where do you see this work coming from?
GDK: Well there are a couple of things to answer there. Because I don’t believe that in his latter years he was in decline; I think from birth he was. And there are enough documented facts to say the tragedy that runs right through him as an artist and a man, came from his birth. From his life, and the beatings, the abuse, the things he saw. His repressed homosexuality then released homosexuality, and then repressed again. His drug abuse. He was a hypochondriac his entire life. So all those things were part of the man, and the things that were in the later plays were also in the early stuff. From the failures in New Haven when he first started, to the massive success of Cat [on a Hot Tin Roof] or Streetcar [Named Desire] and what have you. But the themes are recurring themes all the time. He was obsessed about his life, and his life was poured into every single one of his plays. There’s probably not a play that is simply made up, because writers don’t work like that; it always comes from the soul.
And what about this notion of an aesthetic decline in his late-period?
I don’t think there was an aesthetic decline. There was an aesthetic change, that people then imposed their narrative of decline upon. What I think he was doing when he wrote something like The Two-Character Play, which I directed last year, people couldn’t cope with it because it wasn’t Streetcar or Cat it didn’t have this Williams naturalism if you like. Glass Menagerie deals with some of those in-and-out-of-time moments, which Two-Character Play does so much more, but it was as though it was from a different pen, even though the themes were the same. Coupled with that, in his later exploratory and developmental stages of his style, his sexuality came to the fore. Now, middle class America couldn’t cope with that, so they rejected the work, almost at the same time as they saw a change in the idol, that was the kind of golden child of America. So they were sucked into that world, because they watched it from a middle class morality point of view, saw the plays as happening to other people, but once they realised it was about real life in America they felt slightly abused, and conned if you like, into being taken down the Williams road. Now when you consider, the critical success of a small theatre in London had last year with The Two-Character Play it took a Brit to kind of take it on and make it work. Which is bizarre. So now we’re going to Provincetown as the centrepiece of the Tennessee Williams festival there, then onto New Haven, and I’m currently talking to an Off -Broadway producer about putting it on there. Now this is the play that suffered massively in the 70s, so “Un-Williams” and too complicated, now it’s like “Oh my goodness. We’ve missed it”. It’s like re-evaluating Rattigan, you need a distance from the work in order to appreciate it.