Clothes for a Summer Hotel

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First edition (publ. New Directions, 1983)

Clothes for a Summer Hotel is a 1980 play by Tennessee Williams about the relationship between novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. A critical and commercial failure, it was Williams' last play to debut on Broadway during his lifetime. The play takes place over a one-day visit Scott pays the institutionalized Zelda at Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, with a series of flashbacks to their marriage in the twenties. Williams began work in 1976 on what he envisioned as a "long play" about the Fitzgeralds (he eventually cut it down), and had Geraldine Page in mind to play Zelda from the start.[1]

Williams biographer Donald Spoto has argued that Scott's visit to Zelda was a "clear" representation of the playwright's frequent visits to his mentally incapacitated sister, Rose, in mental hospitals.[2] Williams himself admitted a close identification with Fitzgerald, saying, "At one point I went through a deep depression and heavy drinking. And I, too, have gone through a period of eclipse in public favor....[The Fitzgeralds] embody concerns of my own, the tortures of the creative artist in a materialist society....They were so close to the edge. I understood the schizophrenia and the thwarted ambition."[3]

After an unsuccessful out-of-town tryout in Washington, Clothes for a Summer Hotel opened at Broadway's Cort Theatre on March 26, 1980, with José Quintero directing and Page and Kenneth Haigh leading the cast. The play was interpreted by critics as a literal biography of the Fitzgeralds "that got its facts wrong" rather than a metaphorical play that alluded to Williams' life.[4] Walter Kerr of The New York Times even faulted the play for "the fact that Mr. Williams's personal voice is nowhere to be heard."[5] In addition to receiving poor critical notices, the play opened at the same time that New Yorkers were dealing with a heavy blizzard and a transit strike, and subsequently closed after fourteen performances.[6] As a result of the play's critical failure, Williams vowed that he would "never open a play in New York again....I can't get good press from the New York Times, and [critics] Harold Clurman, Brendan Gill and Jack Kroll hate me....I put too much of my heart in [my plays] to have them demolished by some querulous old aisle sitters."[7]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Spoto 1985, p. 329.
  2. ^ Spoto 1985, p. 339.
  3. ^ Spoto 1985, p. 345.
  4. ^ Dorff, Linda. "Collapsing Resurrection Mythologies: Theatricalist Discourses of Fire and Ash in Clothes for a Summer Hotel." In Gross, Robert F., Ed. (2002). Tennessee Williams: A Casebook. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-8153-3174-6.  p. 153.
  5. ^ Kerr, Walter (1980-03-27). "The Stage: 'Clothes for a Summer Hotel'; People Out of Books" (fee required). The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-05-27. 
  6. ^ Spoto 1985, p. 344.
  7. ^ Wallis, Claudia (1980-08-18). "People". Time. Retrieved 2007-05-27. 

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