The secret years: Tennessee Williams in a 1936-37 yearbook photograph of the staff of the Eliot Review, Washington University's literary magazine.
OE Angeles /WUSTL Photo Services
Daniel Hirsh (left) and Tara Neuhoff bring Williams' "lost play"back to life.
Me, Vashya - By Tennessee Williams. Performed by the Washington University Performing Arts Department through February 15 at the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Student Center at Washington University, 6445 Forsyth Boulevard. Call 314-935-6543.
All My Sons - By Arthur Miller. Performed by Off Center Theatre Company through February 15 at the Theatre at St. John's, 5000 Washington Place. Call 312-719-2855.
From the time both writers established their Broadway footholds in the 1940s, right up until Williams' death at age 72 in 1983, each of these giants was jealous of the other's strengths. Except for early efforts like Me, Vashya and the occasional late misfire like The Red Devil Battery Sign, Williams' writing rarely displayed a social conscience; wary of Miller's ferocious passion, Williams would dismiss plays like All My Sons as "message dramas." Miller, whose striving for dramatic poetry usually fell short of eloquence, would criticize Williams' writing style as manifesting "a weakness for verbal adornment for its own sake." It was left to critics and audiences to engage in worthless debates about whether A Streetcar Named Desire was superior to Death of a Salesman.
Miller today continues to write; at age 88 he is an almost toothless lion who has fueled his life with anger. Williams, although he died more than twenty years ago, lived to see his unique gifts diluted by alcohol and dulled by drugs. Yet this weekend and next, both of these master playwrights will be restored to youthful vigor. Their young idealism, zeal and perseverance should serve as an admonition to today's fledgling writers: Make the most of your secret years now, because the public years, should they come, might not be as fulfilling as they're thought to be.