Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Daydreaming Within Reason: A Lesson from Tennesee Williams

by Logan Peaslee, marketing and development assistant

“One wakes up in the morning and reaches for eyeglasses, coffee, and a myth. You can see that one needs vision, energy, and that myth. Otherwise, the day is simply impossible to face, endure, survive.” –Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams, photographed in 1965, about
10 years before he wrote CREVE COEUR.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
But what is the myth that Williams believes we reach for in the morning? The answer lies in his play, A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR, which follows a group of women as they hope their way through a Sunday. Dorothea, a 30-something schoolteacher, hopes for love. Bodey, her kind-hearted German roommate, hopes to pair Dorothea with Bodey’s twin brother. Helena, the local art teacher, hopes to feign class. And Miss Gluck, Dorothea and Bodey’s neighbor, hopes to survive the loss of her mother. 

Bodey reaches for the myth that her twin brother, Buddy, and Dorothea should be together. Bodey believes that, if Dorothea were to focus her attention on Buddy, she could see Buddy romantically. In turn, Bodey reaches for the myth that two people can be meant for each other and that she is capable of recognizing and facilitating that.

Helena reaches for the myth that one’s success is reflected in one’s wealth. More specifically, she believes that she can elevate herself socially by securing nicer housing. The myth that Helena reaches for is not an uncommon one; people often occupy their presents by working towards obtaining things, material things that they think will bring them mental ease.

Dorothea reaches for the myth that what she feels for her principal, Ralph Ellis, is love. Dorothea mistakes her admiration of Ralph Ellis’ class for adoration of Ralph Ellis as a person. She also perceives her sexual encounter with him as proof of his commitment to her. Believing there is a mutual commitment between herself and someone she adores, Dorothea—and, consequently, the audience—assumes she is in love. But if her hope goes unfulfilled, can the audience assume she is experiencing true heartbreak? Or is Dorothea just experiencing disappointment and loneliness as she hopes? 

One character is without a doubt experiencing true heartbreak—Miss Gluck. Miss Gluck is being torn apart by the loss of her mother, yet her heartbreak is on the periphery of the play, emerging only as a comical inconvenience. With this structure, Williams criticizes people’s tendency to name disappointment heartbreak and shows that doing so discredits a supremely real and supremely difficult experience. It’s much like people who are late to eat their lunch describing themselves as starving. Frustratingly, Dorothea even equates her situation to Miss Gluck’s when she says, “Now Miss Gluck, now Sophie, we must pull ourselves together and go on.” 

Moreover, this play serves to criticize how personal myths, like Dorothea’s “romantic illusions” (as Helena describes them), can waste a day; they can waste a lovely Sunday. Williams implies that relying on unfounded hope and waiting for unpromised outcomes may tend to lead to disappointment, disappointment that may be falsely named heartbreak. Myths can plunder the present. But he also claims that myths help us face, endure, and survive the day. Williams would likely suggest that we daydream within reason.

The myth we reach for is that one’s life—its possibilities and its experiences and its relationships—is more magical, more romantic than it is. Life is beautiful and heartbreaking, absolutely. It’s just beautiful and heartbreaking less often than in our daydreams. Some days are nothing more than a lovely Sunday for a picnic in a park.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's production of A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR runs Sept. 21 to Oct. 16 at the Broadway Theatre Center's Studio Theatre, 158 N. Broadway. Click here for tickets or call 414.291.7800.

Grissom, James. Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog. New York, NY: Knopf, 2015.

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