period of adjustment: the young and the zestless

He certainly was a plausible writer, a bird dog’s instinct for the presently relevant theme. What Tennessee Williams did lack was a love for individual personality that was part of the fever of a true storyteller. In its stead was displayed a preoccupation with general symptoms that was more in the purview health care therapists. It was an automation of fashionable predicament but done very cleverly, and honorably, so that the senses could not differentiate the human surrogates from God’s creatures. But, there is a kind of animal instinct, something profound, that rejects what schooled eyes and ears may be willing to accept; it puts one in a sort of yellow mood, a bit depressing because such excellent simulacra did not pass the tests by which every species recognizes its own.

—The SF Playhouse presents Tennessee Williams’ Period Of Adjustment to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the great American playwright’s birth. A departure from Williams’ dark dramas, Period of Adjustment was written partly in response to a columnist’s question asking why his plays were always “plunging into the sewers.” It’s Christmas Eve in High Point, 1958. Ralph Bates is a Korean War hero facing problems with his in-laws. George has just married the beautiful and naïve Isabel, but he’s suffering “the shakes.” George takes his new bride to meet his friend and former comrade for the holiday celebrations, but as the snow settles outside, the idyllic Christmas scene begins to dissolve—Read More:

The dramatists problem of securing an adequate response is highlighted in  William’s Period of Adjustment, skillfully written in the vernacular of the then present-day concern. And his serious comedy is actually dulling to the spirit. Williams is concerned, as in his succession of violent tragedies, with the guilt of impotence, the horror of castration, and the danger of the devouring female. At least valid concerns symbolically, and at least he was driven from within, not attracted from without. Williams was always a man who saw himself as a back to the wall type in an extreme situation to which he had to extricate himself from; a sort of art as therapy for him with all the savage and endless debate that surrounds it.

Period of Adjustment concerns two couples who at the beginning of the play find themselves mentally and physically estranged and who, at the final curtain, are tumbling into their respective beds with the happiest anticipations. Good for them. Whew! Problem is an audience, a reader, has been obliged to wait for several hours while they made their trek through the psychological rain forest, and melancholy session it seems founded on being.

—This was the first feature-length film directed by the very successful George Roy Hill. Based on a Tennessee Williams’ novel, this standard comedy-drama focuses on two married couples who are both having a hard time of it, at least for now. The first couple, Isabel and George Haverstick (Jane Fonda in an early role, and Jim Hutton), are in trouble because George has bouts of intense fear ultimately brought on by his need to appear to be as macho as he can — basically his problem is performance anxiety. The second couple, Ralph and Dorothea Baitz (Tony Franciosa and Lois Nettleton) have their problems centering on the fact that he married her for her money — and she knows it. What she may not realize is that after six years of marriage he has fallen in love with her.—Read More:

Conformity is depressing, and these William’s characters are really worse than conformist: they are composites. They are probably not by design, but as the inevitable result of William’s method. The premise that evil will devour the most unremarkable flesh leads Williams to work with clay so common, that the breath of life never enters. He derives his people by averages that approach homogeneity. The characters in Period of Adjustment are real not by intuition, but by definition: they are compiled from all the T.V. ads, suburban sociologies, Rockwell covers, magazine stories that passed before Williams’s suffering ears and eyes. The result is not real or genine people, but statistical tropes we are expected to recognize. But neuroses do not look plausible in manikins, and sympathy wavers and turns rancid when its object is a generalization. It becomes the inspidity of human suffering. Relief comes when you see that though the suffering may actually be genuine, the humanity in this instance is only an advertising dummy.

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