Tennessee Williams' classic stage play is a major achievement, often eclipsed by the success of the cliffnoted movie of the same name staring Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Katherine Hepburn.
The plot of the play is this: Doctor Cukrowicz (which, as the character says--is the Polish for sugar) is visiting the home of one Violet Venable, a recluse but rich eccentric who travels about her home in a wheelchair and by elevator. It comes to pass that Ms. Venable would like Dr. Cukrowicz to perform some operation on her niece, Catharine Holly.
Catherine has been spending the past few months in an insane asylum, after witnessing the horrible death of Violet Venable's son, Sebastian.
The entirety of the play takes place on the Venable's porch, overlooking a highly symbolic garden. Williams emphasizes in his text the sounds and movements within the foliage, playing as a music score to the story that is told by Catherine over the course of the play--the story of a horrible day in Cabeza de Lobo, under white hot skies and heat, devouring monsters...
The play is for 2 men (the Doctor and George Holly, Catharine's brother, who I had the privilege of playing in a high school play.)
And five women (a nun, Ms. Venable, Ms. Holly (Catherine's mother), Ms. Venable's assistant, and Catherine)
There is a strong undercurrent theme of masked homosexuality and even incest within the text, that is further muted in the film version.
Both Elizabeth Taylor and Katherine Hepburn were nominated for Academy Awards but lost. The film was released in 1959 which is somewhat amazing, consider its nature. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, All About Eve) it wanders from location to location, adding characters here, new action there. In the movie we actually get to see and visit Lion's View, the equivalent of the International House of Pancakes for lobotomies. The screenplay was created by Gore Vidal.
Many think the themes of destructive homosexuality were highlighted in the movie (see the Celluloid Closet), while in the play it was just an unspoken thing, the actual causation of the Sebastian's conclusion being less intertwined with morality.
Both the film and play are symbolic delights, and both stem from the incredible mind of Tennessee Williams.
Some spoilers may follow... In my analysis of the script, I keep coming back to Sebastian (one of many "phantom characters" in Williams' plays, analogous to the father in the Glass Menagerie) and his "Poem of Summer." As Mrs. Venbable says, he "was poet! That's what I meant when I said his life was his work because the work of a poet is the life of a poet and--vice versa.... Poets are always clairvoyant!" (Act I, Scene I) In Sebastian's clairvoyance, he has ghost-written his final poem of summer, while leaving his "blue jay notebook" empty. (I, IV)
"Title?" Mrs. Venable says, "'Poem of Summer,' and the date of the summer--1935. After that: what? Blank pages, blank pages, nothing but nothing!--last summer... A poet's vocation is something that rests on something as thin and fine as the web of a spider." It is Catharine, Sebastian's cousin whose words personify the actual writing of Sebastian's posthumous poem in the lay's climatic conclusion. She had been vacationing with him, in replacement for his mother-- as bait to lure (subtext) young men for his spider's web of myopic deeds, fodder for his poetry.
In Catharine's remembrance of the fateful events at Cabeza de Lobo, she recalls him as "white as the weather. He had on a white panama and white shoes, white--white lizard skin--pumps! He--kept touching his face and his throat here and there with a white silk handkerchief and popping little white pills in his mouth." Seven times is the color white mentioned in this way, within one monologue of dialogue, and still this image of whiteness-- of light itself does not cease. As naked children playing maniacal music, children he may very well have molested--chase him, Catharine analyzes Sebastian as being part of this white, ambivalent light: "He!--accepted!--all--as--how!--things!--are!--And thought nobody had any right to complain or interfere in any way whatsoever, and even though he knew that what was awful was awful... he was certainly never sure that naything was wrong!" We are all light to him, part of this mad nature. "It was all white outside," she continues, "White hot, a blazing white hot, hot blzing white... It looked as if--as if a huge white bone had caught on fire in the sky and blazed so bright it was white and turned the sky and everything under the sky white with it!"
God damn, I'm thinking. This is the poem of summer. All the elements in place, "the band of naked children pursued us up the steep white street in the sun that was like a great white bone of a giant beast that had caught on fire in the sky!" At the end, the book is closed. The poem is written.