Ransom Center exhibit reveals playwright’s creative mentality

After more than two years of compiling elements from an American playwright, the Harry Ransom Center opened its doors Thursday to theater fans, historians and the UT community to observe what defined Tennessee Williams as an artist.

The center organized the exhibit “Becoming Tennessee Williams” to celebrate the playwright’s 100th birthday. The exhibit — which displays Williams’ manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and artwork — has five sections: the poorly received play “Battle of Angels,” the creation of “The Glass Menagerie,” themes of masculinity in Williams’ plays, the development of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and the adaptation of his plays to film.

Exhibition organizer and curator Charlotte Canning led a gallery tour Thursday for more than 30 people. The exhibit included Marlin Brando’s address book, letters Williams wrote to his lovers, correspondence between Williams and director Elia Kazan and alternate drafts of “The Glass Menagerie.”

The section about themes of masculinity exposed how Williams’ plays confounded ideas of gender, said Canning, a theater and dance professor.

Another section, which describes the transformation from staged productions to films, shows how Williams confronted larger social issues such as sexuality, racism and censorship. The section also illustrates Williams’ exceptional ability to collaborate with Hollywood
directors and producers, Canning said.

Kazan adapted “A Streetcar Named Desire” to film, starring Marlin Brando in 1951. His work transformed many people in his own life into characters of his plays, and he transformed daily life into art that different people could relate to.

“[Williams] excels at the emotional family dramas that are at the heart of the modern American theater, but moves beyond their psychological realism to add poetic and theatrical elements that give the works greater artistic range and richness,” said UT English professor James Loehlin.

The exhibit features more than 250 items from the Ransom Center’s collection to reveal Williams’ process of artistic creation — a process that the center’s website calls revolutionary. The center is one of the primary archives of Williams’ work.

“I’m really excited about the exhibit,” said theatre and dance sophomore Christina Robertson. “The plays he wrote are timeless.”

“Becoming Tennessee Williams” is available for the public to view at the Ransom Center from Friday until July 31. The exhibition is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours on Thursday until 7 p.m. It will also be open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.