|Title||:||The Gnadiges Fraulein.|
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The Gnadiges Fraulein. Reviews
I have been reading the plays of Tennessee Williams included in the two-volume compilation from the Library of America The Collected Plays of Tennessee Williams (The Library of America), and I wanted to read some of his later plays not included in the LOA set. In particular, I wanted to read Williams' one act 1966 play, "The Gnadiges Fraulein" ("The Gracious Lady") because John Lahr praised and discussed this rare play at length in his recent biography of Williams. Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh. "The Gnadiges Fraulein" formed the second part of a double-bill called "The Slapstick Tragedy". The first play in the program, "The Mutilated" The Mutilated. is included in the second LOA volume. "The Slapstick Tragedy" and both of its components received derisory reviews, and the Broadway production folded after only seven performances. The Broadway production featured Zoe Caldwell, Kate Reid, and Margaret Leighton. Caldwell won a Tony Award for her performance of Polly.The reasons for the failure of "The Gnadiges Fraulein" are not far to seek. Following the 1961 success of "The Night of the Iguana", Williams went into a long decline. He changed his style from the romantic realism of his famous plays. "The Gnadiges Fraulein" is written in a highly surrealistic difficult- to-follow style in the manner of Ionesco and Beckett who were influential at the time. When Williams wrote this play, he was heavily addicted to amphetamines.Lahr describes the work as a "clown" or a "cartoon" play. It features garish characters and heavy satire. The work is set in the southernmost Florida Key called fictitiously Cocaloony Key after the fictitious pelican-like and aggressive bird known as the cocaloony bird which appears in full regalia as a character in the play and which lives in the ocean off the pier devouring fish that are thrown away by fishing vessels. The primary characters in the play are Polly and Molly -- Williams makes great use of the rhyming of the names -- and the Gnadiges Fraulein. Polly is a gossip columnist for the "Cocaloony Gazette" while her old acquaintance Molly runs a large, shabby boardinghouse consisting of a single large dormitory for "permanent transients". The transients include an old man, a strange blond Indian called "Indian Joe" and the Gnadiges Fraulein.Polly and Molly sit in rocking chairs on the boardinghouse porch and trade barbs about each other and about the fading South while they smoke marijuana cigarettes. The Gnadiges Fraulein is an old, beat-up singer and actress who performed in her youth in a Vaudeville troupe for Kaiser Wilhelm together with a trained seal and its trainer where she, as well as the seal, caught fish in her mouth. The Fraulein has been reduced to competing with the cocaloony birds for fish and to bringing them to Molly and the boarding house in exchange for rent. She wears an outlandish costume which the stage notes describe as "not out of place at the Moulin Rouge at the time of Toulouse-Lautrec". When she first appears, one of the Fraulein's eyes is covered by a bloody bandage. A cocaloony bird has poked out her eye in the competition for fish. As the play develops, the birds also poke out her other eye and inflict further damage. When a fishing boat whistles three times, the Gnadiges Fraulein runs like a track athlete to try to capture a fish ahead of the cocaloony birds, described as the "competish". Polly and Molly heap verbal abuse and insults upon the Gnadiges Fraulein over and above her injuries from the birds. the Fraulein perseveres in her singing and in her efforts to catch the discarded fish.It is a cruel, sardonic, satirical play with a gritty sense of continuing one's course through trouble. The work probably can be interpreted as a portrayal of Williams' unsparing view of himself as he continued to write in the face of an increasingly hostile critical and popular reaction, represented by Polly and Molly, and with a decrease in romantic inspiration. The unfortunate gnadiges fraulein may also represent the fate of the creative individual in an increasingly fractured world. Polly and Molly show the deterioration of the South as portrayed in Williams' earlier plays as well of the fracturing and troubled United States which Polly calls the "Disunited Mistakes". The play is obscure but challenging.With its hostile initial reception and its exclusion from the LOA volumes, "The Gnadiges Fraulein" has enjoyed something of an increase in its reputation. Lahr's biography discusses the work in detail and describes it as "the most underrated of Williams' sixties plays" and as "surrealist romp, which plunders the freewheeling theater of the absurd." Lahr states that "the play's giddy despair plays as a metaphor both of Williams' crumbling competitive consciousness and of the social havoc of the nation's habitual pursuit of victory." In recent years, there have been a number of revivals of "The Gnadiges Fraulein", including performances in Provincetown and, in 2011, in Washington, D.C among other places. The play receives mixed but increasingly respectful critical reviews and discussions. The companion play in "The Slapstick Tragedy", "The Mutilated" has also been revived in a 2013 off-Broadway performance featuring Mink Stole and Penny Arcade."The Gnadiges Fraulein" is a late work of Williams which deserves to be known. I was glad to learn about and to read this play. Admirers of Tennessee Williams and students of American literature and theater will enjoy getting to know this play.Robin Friedman
This is both insane and fascinating.
This may be the strangest play I have ever read, including Sarah Kane's works. It's best described as Williams' best tragicomedy - and it will make you question whether you should laugh or cry.