Sep 6, 2011

The Madhouse

A few years back I had the privilege of interviewing Jeremy Lawrence, a fine actor and translator who's made something of a cottage industry of playing Tennessee Williams in a series of solo shows drawn from the playwright's own words. In the course of the interview, Jeremy spoke the indelible line, "My picture is in the renovated madhouse," by which he meant that the current occupants of the small house in Key West, Fl., which Williams nicknamed his "madhouse," are fans of Jeremy's, and that his photo proudly hangs there.

That line stuck with me, and not long after, I spun the few fragments I know about the Key West residence and Tennessee's work into a song called simply "The Madhouse." So for Tennessee's centennial, celebrated in this month's issue of American Theatre (which also features another interview with Mr. Lawrence), I offer..."The Madhouse."

My picture is in the renovated madhouse
In a place of honor by the stair
Folks who stay there throw away their care
This unreal estate was once a kind of hothouse
There's still a trace of sweetness in the air
When you visit, you'll wonder is it there?
It may not speak to you
And yet I think you'll feel it
Here is a place where something grew
The Madhouse

In this window seat, his flowers had their greenhouse
Though it was never water they were fed
On a white page he set a stage instead
You have to believe he saw it as a playhouse
The light through the curtain set the scene
On the lace grid the phantoms did convene
This is the fateful room
Wherein the summer smoke commenced to whirl
And curl and bloom
The Madhouse

This island retreat, for some, is just a funhouse
Where they play to spite the sands of time
They resist love with every twist of lime
But this patch of earth is solemn as a courthouse
It was here the fatal case was made
Where he would not fail if he did not fade
Perhaps you've seen the sense
Wherein relying on strangers
Can be a kind of self-defense
In the Madhouse

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