Paul Birchard writes:

U & Me & Tennessee has certainly taken a lot more time than I envisaged when we started out in June, 2005...! Persistent lack of money leads to delays - the need to earn money to continue the work takes time away from editing, rostrum, music - the entire project is forever balancing on a knife edge - will we get it completed? Or will we all die first ? (God forbid!) - But frustrating as it is, that's simply standard operating proceedure in real independent movie-making.

As Jack O'Brien (Tony Award-winning director of Hairspray) observed to a tired actor during rehearsals of His Girl Friday (when I worked with him back in 2003):

" Well - You wanted to be in the show! "

A friend asked me recently how I'd managed to maintain my focus and enthusiasm for U & Me & Tennessee over such a long haul ?

I suppose that boils down to answering this question:

What does Tennessee Williams mean to me?


Well, first of all, as a young actor discovering Tennessee's work by grappling with his early one-act plays - The Lady of Larkspur Lotion, Mooney's Kid Don't Cry, Something Unspoken (to name only three) - fiercely rehearsed by me and my fellow student actors late at night or in the early morning hours before Charles Vernon's Acting class in the basement of Royce Hall at U.C.L.A. - big, challenging roles in bite-sized plays that we watched one another bring to varying degrees of life......

If "a book is a machine to think with," Tennessee's one-acts are well-crafted, sturdy devices to learn to act with.

Charles Vernon, my Scottish Acting teacher, summed up Tennessee's dramatic method as follows:

" Poetic Expression of the Sub-Text "

- and this still seems to me to be entirely apt.

(Some of Charles's other students included Forrest Whittaker, Tate Donovan, Ally Sheedy and my dear friend the late director Charlie Hall.)

The Glass Menagerie is undoubtedly a masterpiece, and a powerful reminder that the personal, the particular is the universal, the political.

During his lifetime, various pundits remarked that Tenn's plays are not sufficiently political in their outlook, and he suffered some rebuke because he did not champion homosexuality more openly in his work.

Konrad Hopkins and I recently saw The Fugitive Kind on the big screen - directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Tennessee and Meade Roberts - and it is a really great movie - very powerful.

There are minor things in it that one might quibble about ( I would like to have seen Marlon Brando actually play that guitar at least once !), but watching it in the context of the ongoing rape of Iraq by pathologically murderous elements of American (and other) power, and remembering Vietnam and too much else - I could clearly see the entire foundation and much of the superstructure of the death-loving, criminal combine currently in the ascendant, portrayed in the clearest detail in Tennessee's script - brought to terrifying life by Victor Jory (Jabe) and R.G. Armstrong (the Sherrif).

As Tenn wrote in his introduction to A Streetcar Named Desire:

"I think the problem that we should apply ourselves to is simply one of survival. I mean actual, physical survival !"


Shot in the late 1950's, Anna Magnani's smouldering, fiery Lady - Marlon Brando's restrained, reflective Val, Joanne Woodward's disengaged, alienated Carol all point toward the future - now - when Americans would need to realize that we are but one nation among many - that all people are connected - that we must repudiate deliberate cruelty and those who practice it (whatever their momentary, specious justifications for doing so).

The central challenge of our time is to make war spiritually on the ingrained attitudes that precipitate most of the suffering we endure because of cold-hearted, callous people of the type Tenn clearly portrayed in Jabe Torrance and the Sherrif in The Fugitive Kind.

For me, as I've come to think deeply about him during the making of this movie, it's obvious that Tennessee understood and waged this spiritual battle, with might and main, over many decades.

In his work.

Tennessee fought the good fight in his work.

But in his personal life, Tennessee was certainly capable of deliberate cruelty...He was candid about some of it. A lot of it he probably just forgot.

As he himself admitted, he was both Blanche and Stanley.

U & Me & Tennessee is important because we do not avoid this paradox in Tenn's nature. The impact of his complex, contradictory personality on Konrad Hopkins is the very subject of the film. As Konrad makes clear, Tennessee was capable of being extremely generous, delightful, kind - but he was also cruel - if not sadistic - cold, thoughtless and self-obsessed.


But what's remarkable to me - wonderful - about Tennessee is that even in his cruelty he could impart priceless lessons in the art of living - Konrad certainly feels this now, though it took many, many years for him to arrive at this understanding.

Finally, the reason we can still make interesting work about Tenn - nearly twenty-five years after his death - is not only because of his piercing intelligence, nor what even a trenchant critic like Frank Rich had to acknowledge was Tennessee's almost unobstructed channel to the collective unconscious - nor is it due to his notorious lifestyle, chronicled in his Memoirs and Notebooks and by others.

It isn't even because he produced so many masterpieces - A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, Summer and Smoke, Sweet Bird of Youth, and so many other memorable, arresting plays, movie scripts and stories.

No. The reason Tennessee Williams is still news, still evokes curiosity and avid interest is because of his unquenchable committment to his work - to working every day no matter what.

Dotson Rader has written a wonderful book about his close friend: Tennessee Williams - A Cry of the Heart. In Britain it was subtitled "An Intimate Memoir" and it certainly is that.

Dotson writes:

"I asked him why he worked every day. I have known a lot of writers who claim to work every day - I've even made that preposterous avowal - but Tennessee is the only writer who ever actually did."

Tenn replies:

"I try to work every day, baby, because you have no refuge but writing. None. When you're going through a period of unhappiness, a broken love affair, the death of someone you love, or some other disorder in your life, then you have no refuge but writing...Could you live without writing, baby? I couldn't...if my work is interrupted I'm like a raging tiger."

95% of life is showing up. Tennessee showed up virtually every day of his life - and worked hard.

(It's interesting to note that JAMES T. FARRELL, the other writer Konrad Hopkins knew well, also worked incredibly hard - writing twenty to thirty pages a day, most of the time! Konrad edited three of Farrell's books for him. Unlike Tennessee, Farrell had no qualms about allowing another's editorial sense to shape his work.

Konrad still writes about 1,000 words a day himself !)

If you want to hear Tennessee's voice, you might get ahold of a copy of the new edition of his Collected Poems. New Directions books have included a CD of Tenn reciting some of the poems !

National Public Radio also featured an interesting piece a few years back, still available on the web, about some old cardboard phonograph records made in a penny arcade in New Orleans by Tennessee and his then companion Pancho, which had been lying at the bottom of a trunk full of stuff Tenn had left at Donald Windham's place - It's worth a listen.

There is a lot more I'd like to say - but - long story short ? -

When I began work on U & Me & Tennessee I was prepared to believe that Tennessee had behaved very badly toward Konrad Hopkins in particular, and by implication and recorded fact, many other people as well.

As I've read and thought more deeply about him over these past two years, I've come to have a more balanced view of Tennessee Williams, and a respect, an admiration for Mr. Williams's unceasing artistic efforts and achievements has been born in me, which continues, each day, to grow stronger and deeper.