The Dog Enchanted by the Divine Viewby Tennessee Williams
directed by David Kaplan
starring Nancy Cassaro and Larry Coen
The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater FestivalWorld Premiere
worked up his full-length plays by writing short versions first. His ease and excellence at devising one-acts was such that he wrote over 70 of them -- and we discover more every year. Some of these short plays resemble painters’ sketches intended as preparation for a larger canvas. Some sketches are rough, some are finished works in themselves.
The Dog Enchanted by the Divine View was discovered at the Ransom Center in Austin, Texas by Canadian scholar Brian Parker.On the first page of the manuscript, Williams typed “A one-act sketch from which ‘The Rose Tattoo’ derived.” Parker dates it to the spring of 1948, when Williams was visiting Italy and Sicily. Several titles are given. The Italian version, Il Cane Incantato della Divina Costiera, seems to be a phrase Williams overheard, found catchy, and translated himself with creative misunderstanding.
Dog Enchanted introduces the central characters who appear in The Rose Tattoo and sets up the premise of the action. A truck driver courts a juicy Sicilian widow who takes in sewing in a Gulf of Mexico shrimping village. Offstage, the widow’s 15 year-old daughter is on her own first date. Single sentences (“A woman can’t live in a grave” and “I love my husband with all my heart”) contain clusters of meaning that, in the full-length version, Williams will unpack into lyrical outpourings of impassioned romanticism.
Three people influenced the transition from Dog to The Rose Tattoo. First among them is Frank Merlo, Williams’ Sicilian-American lover. In one draft, the role of the truck driver is called Merlo, but changes to Mangiacavallo, a playful version of Frank’s nickname. Mangiacavallo is no portrait sketch, however, but given in homage, as is the dedication of the play - "To Frank, in return for Sicily.” The pair visited the island in 1949. The photograph of Williams and Merlo at sea is radiant with the happiness that shines throughout all versions of the play. Williams sent his draft to Elia Kazan, the director of the stage and film versions of A Streetcar Named Desire. Kazan responded that the play “is a kind of comic-grotesque Mass said in praise of the Male Force. I do not think the material is organized properly.…I was very surprised by the ending. Its main spirit up till then seemed to be in praise of life, and its sensual, undying sensual base. ... There is something comic in the biggest sense of that word - optimistic and healthy and uncontrollable.” Williams took Kazan’s advice and there would be over 30 different endings.
The playwright’s close friendship and admiration for the Italian actress Anna Magnani stirred him to bestow on his widow Magnani’s inner strength and dark elegant earthiness. Serafina echoes Magnani’s innate tragic tone. Clara is much lighter. However, the presumed collaborators could not participate. Kazan, committed to direct several films, was unable to direct the play or the movie. Magnani was shy that her English wasn’t good enough for stage performance and declined the offer to create the role onstage. Maureen Stapleton played Serafina on Broadway in 1952 and won a Tony Award, as did Eli Wallach for creating the role of Mangiacavallo.
When it came time to film the play Kazan was still busy, but Magnani enthusiastically took part and won an Academy Award. The Rose Tattoo troubled the film censors even before a film script was submitted. “Mr. Williams’ idea of the ‘humanity’ of his characters involves their absorption in questions of sex and lust…” Despite this banter, the film created is true to the spirit of the play. A veteran Hollywood comedy writer hired to add material was dismissed, and Williams added a new ending fulfilling Kazan’s exhortation to praise life and its sensual, undying sensual base.
The Dog Enchanted by the Divine View
The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival
directed by David Kaplan
with Nancy Cassaro and Larry Coen
The Rose Tattoo (film)
directed by Daniel Mann
with Anna Magnani and Burt Lancaster