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Bringing Baby Doll to Life

Tennessee Williams at work. Reprinted with permission, Southern Literary Trail.

November 1, 2017

“The process by which the idea for a play comes to me has always been something I really couldn’t pinpoint. A play just seems to materialize; like an apparition, it gets clearer and clearer and clearer.” —Tennessee Williams, in an interview with The Paris Review

The writing process of Tennessee Williams was characterized by the tension between bulk writing and intricate, painstaking revision. The same characters, themes and situations would often appear in countless iterations, taking shape across the mixed forms of short story, one-act and full-length plays, novel, and film. Concerned with working from the intuitive “feel” of a scene over any set plotting or outline, his characters gained the depth and guts characteristic of Williams’ work through constant reworking—of both the minutiae of each line and of larger units of whole scenes or acts.

“Finishing a play, you know, is like completing a marriage or a love affair. You’re totally absorbed in the play or the novel or the piece of writing, and when you can’t do any more with it, it ceases to be the center of your life. You feel very forsaken by that, that’s why I love revising and revising, because it delays the moment when there is this separation between you and the work. —Tennessee Williams, in an interview in the New York Times, March 28th 1965

From 1935 through 1979, Tennessee Williams examined the characters of Baby Doll, Archie Lee Meighan, Silva Vacarro, and Aunt Rose Comfort across numerous works. 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, a short story written in 1935 and published in 1936,  marked the first appearance of Baby Doll, Archie Lee, and Silva. This short story became a one-act play of the same name in 1945. Aunt Rose Comfort first appeared with the Meighans in The Long Stay Cut Short, a one act play first published in 1945 that was later republished as The Unsatisfactory Supper. These two one-act plays were used by Williams to craft the 1956 film of Baby Doll. An early draft of this screenplay, then titled Hide and Seek, depicts a vastly different movie in tone, structure, characters, and plot, while also retaining core scenes and moments from the earlier one-acts that remained in the final version of the film. In 1979, the conflict between the Meighans and Silva Vaccaro returned to the stage in Williams’ final visitation to the dilapidated Meighan plantation in Tiger Tail, a reworking of his screenplay for Baby Doll.   Baby Doll, the full length play, adapted by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann premiered at the McCarter Theatre in September of 2016.  New Stage Theatre’s production of Baby Doll is the fourth production of the adaptation and the Southeastern Premiere.

Mississippians have been spending 2017 honoring the state’s people and places, music and food, achievements in agriculture, science, and industry, sports legends, literary and artistic genius, and more.  We thought it appropriate that New Stage Theatre join the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mississippi’s statehood by producing the work of a Mississippi born citizen whose impact and influence reached, and continues to reach, far beyond our state’s borders.

One of America’s greatest playwrights, and certainly the greatest ever from the South, Tennessee Williams wrote fiction and motion picture screenplays, but he is acclaimed primarily for his plays—nearly all of which are set in the South, but which at their best rise above regionalism to approach universal themes.

While considering several Tennessee Williams plays with Mississippi locales, New Stage was granted the rare – once in a lifetime – opportunity to produce the Southeastern Premiere of a new adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ screenplay Baby DollAlthough the permission came to us late in the process, I became excited about the chance to present this new adaptation to our audiences.   As in the film, the characters are provocative, mysterious and multi-layered. The play is both humorous and disturbing.  I hope our production of Baby Doll generates or increases appreciation for one of Mississippi’s cultural treasures, Tennessee Williams.

Francine Reynolds
Artistic Director

*Information on Tennessee Williams’ writing process provided by Ryan Gedrich

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