A review of Tennessee Williams’ Play
Radio Voice: “Heavy seas from Point Conception south to the Mexican Border, fog continuing till tomorrow noon, extreme caution should be observed on all highways along this section of the coastline.”
The play, Small Craft Warnings, written by Tennessee Williams, was presented off Broadway at the Truck and Warehouse Theater in the spring of 1972. It takes place in a bar called Monk’s Place, somewhere along the southern coast of California. This bar provides a place of refuge for vulnerable human vessels, people living on the edge of humanity.
When Mr. Williams was asked in an interview if he thought it is right to put his persona into his work he replied, “What else can I do?”
This is not one of Tennessee Williams’ greater works, but rather a smaller crafted one. One that I have always been drawn to for one reason or another. What has recently put it in mind was a trip I took to Mexico. I posted a picture of Lake Chapala one day when the wind was blowing and the water was choppy. I called the picture Small Craft Warnings after the play. It just popped into my head. Then I got to thinking about the play and pulled it down from the shelf and decided to give it a reread.
I had a couple of friends over one afternoon and out of a fit of boredom we decided to act out some of the roles there in my living room. And finally, I was browsing through some YouTube videos one night and I ran across a video of Tennessee Williams being interviewed by Dick Cavett. The interview was billed as Tennessee Williams talks about Marlon Brando. Well, that looked interesting, so I decided to give it a look. He wasn’t talking about Marlon Brando at all. He was talking about Small Craft Warnings, his new play which just opened at The Truck and Warehouse Theater in New York. Boom! Another dot to be connected and another ball falls into a slot. I felt a need to write about it.
So, I gave the play another read and I just wanted to share a condensed version of it. There are nine characters. Each of the principle characters gets a moment alone in their own special light for their own special soliloquy.
When the curtain rises, we hear the sound of ocean wind. The stage is lighted very dim. Monk, the owner, is behind the bar serving Doc. Doc has lost his license to practice medicine for heavy drinking, but he continues to practice somewhat on the sly. Both are middle aged.
Downstage, sitting at a table, is Violet with a battered old suitcase sitting by her side. She has the look of a derelict. She lives in a small room with no bath over the arcade down at the end of the pier directly over the pool tables, pin ball machines and the bowling alley.
Doc says: “The solace of companionship is not the least expensive item on the shelves of the fucking super market a man of my age has to spend what’s left of his life in.”
Bill enters the bar. He is a loser putting up a bold front. By definition he is a “stud.” He has always traded on his physical endowment. He even has a name for his thing, he calls it “Junior.” He brags about not having ever done a lick of work in his life. He is currently shacking with Leona in her trailer in a trailer park nearby. He ambles over to the table where Violet is sitting with a couple of beers in his hands and a killer smile on his lips.
Violet says: “A man like you.”
Bill says: “A man like me?”
Violet: “A bull of a man like you. You got arms on you big as the sides of a ham.”
Bill: “That aint all I got big.”
Violet: “You mean what I think?”
Bill: “If you can’t see you can feel.”
Violet reaches under the table and it is obvious that she is feeling him.
The door bursts open. Leona enters like a small bull. She is a large ungainly woman wearing white clam diggers, a pink sweater, and a sailor’s cap. She is a beautician and lives in a trailer park nearby with Bill. When she realizes what Violet is doing under the table, she raises a rhubarb.
Later Steve enters the bar. He is wearing a floral-patterned shirt under a tan jacket and the greasy white pants of a short order cook. He is looking for Violet who at this moment is screaming her head off in the Ladies.
A little while later a young man and a boy enter the bar. They walk to a table in the front. The boy, Bobby, wears jeans and a sweat shirt with the words Iowa to Mexico on it. The young man, Quentin, is dressed in a jacket, maroon slacks, and a silk scarf. Their story is Quentin picked up Bobby on the road who was riding his bicycle. He talked him into putting his bike in his car and coming along with him. Quentin had taken Bobby to his home earlier and they had a little tiff, one might say a “lover’s quarrel.” They stopped at the bar for a drink.
Doc gets a phone call. He has to go. Someone will be born tonight on Treasure Island.
Quentin and Bobby leave the bar.
Leona says: “I had an Italian boyfriend once who used to say, ‘Meglior solo que mal accompanota,’ which means that you’re better off alone than in the company of a bad companion.”
Later Doc returns. Leona starts in on him. “Back already? It didn’t take you much time to deliver the baby. Or did you bury the baby? Or did you bury the mother. Or did you bury them both, mother and baby?”
Doc: “Can’t you shut this woman up?”
Leona: “No one can shut this woman up. Quack, quack, quack, Doctor Duck, quack, quack, quack, quack, quack!”
Later, Violet is sitting a table with Monk. She drops a match box and reaches for it. And suddenly her hand is no longer on the table. She says, “It’s a pitiful thing to have to reach under a table to find some reason to live.”
There’s a commotion outside. Bill and Steve rush out the door.
Doc takes off.
Leona takes off.
Only Violet and Monk are left on stage. Monk is closing up.
Violet goes upstairs. Monk says, “I’ll bring you some beer. Don’t forget to shower.”
Monk crosses to open the door. We hear the boom of the ocean outside. “I always leave the door open for a few minutes to clear the smoke and liquor smell out of the place and the human odors and to hear the ocean.”
He hears the water running upstairs. “That ain’t rain,” he says. He starts up the steps and pauses a moment. He glances up with a smile of anticipation.
Another bitter irony involving this piece concerns scene where Doc delivers the baby: The baby dies, the mother dies. This actually happened in real life to my Great Grandfather, Dr. Benjamin Franklin Woolery in 1944. Was a medical doctor and was called to a woman’s home to deliver her baby. While there he had a heart attack and died. The woman was rushed to a hospital where she died and the baby died. I wrote about this story in another blog post called the Curious Case of Dr. Benjamin Franklin Woolery.
And that is the story of Small Craft Warnings. We are all in the same boat, so we have to look out after each other a little bit.