The Firehouse Theatre’s September 19 staged reading of The Night of the Iguana and its current production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof–both part of Richmond’s Centennial Celebration of Tennessee Williams–sent me back to the pages of Williams’ plays, which I’ve been rereading in the Library of America edition: Plays 1937-1955.
I keep thinking of these words of Big Mama’s: “Time goes by so fast. Nothin’ can outrun it. Death commences too early–almost before you’re half-acquainted with life–you meet the other. . . .” In a recent Fresh Air interview, actress Margo Martindale told Terry Gross how saying those lines as a student differed from saying them decades later:
“I played Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof when I was 20 years old at the University of Michigan. And then I played Big Mama on Broadway in 2004. The speech at the end of that play — ‘Time goes by so quickly …’ — boy did that have different weight from when I was 20 years old to when I was 50-something-odd years old. It’s all about what you’ve experienced. You can’t teach that to a younger actor. You have to have lived that.” In the current Firehouse production,
Jacqueline Jones speaks Big Mama’s lines from experience as well, delivering one of the cast’s strongest performances.
In his introduction to Camino Real, Williams writes of the all-consuming nature of play writing: “It is amazing and frightening how completely one’s whole being becomes absorbed in the making of a play. It is almost as if you were frantically constructing another world while the world that you live in dissolves beneath your feet, and that your survival depends on completing this construction at least one second before the old habitation collapses.”
Today when I was completing an application for a grant, I thought of how it would enable my whole being to become absorbed–at least briefly–in the writing process in a way that it can’t when I’m teaching. Grants buy us time, which “goes by so fast. Nothin’ can outrun it.”