The Traveling Companion/The Chalky White Substanceby Tennessee Williams
directed by David Kaplan, with Jeremy Lawrence and Zachary Clause
A co-production of the New Orleans, Columbus Mississippi, and Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festivals.
In several completed late works and drafts, TW writes about governments replaced by repressive, hostile regimes or otherwise controlled by mysterious unknown authorities. One of Williams’ most effective uses of this premise—combined with themes of paranoia and betrayal—is to be found in the one-act play, The Chalky White Substance. In its postapocalyptic world populated primarily by men, any semblance of a recognizable government has been wiped out hundreds of years ago. It is like a jail, in that “protectors” are required for survival, and it is also like a monastery since the men wear robes, have apostolic names, and observe abstention, humility and other ascetic conventions.
It is not incidental that Williams would write about the relationship between an older man and a younger man when he was nearly seventy himself. In the full-length play Something Cloudy, Something Clear, Tlaced both roles, that of the young writer (from 1940) and the older writer (from 1980), in the hands of one actor.In the one-act The Traveling Companion, begun at the same time as The Chalky White Substance and Something Cloudy, Something Clear, the conversation between a younger man (Beau, an inexperienced hustler full of sexual potency) and an older man (Vieux, a neurotic, insecure writer) continues. All three plays demonstrate the intensity of TW’s feeling that there are always business-like transactions and emotional compromises to be made in every kind of love relationship.
Even before the death of his longtime companion Frank Merlo in 1963, Tehe Chalky White Substance which he collectively titled Tennessee Williams’ Guignol.s rarely without an additional “assistant,” “secretary,” or “companion” of some kind, often more than one at a time, and most often their duties included intimacy. The person who was mostly like the model for Beau was Robert Carroll, a Vietnam veteran with whom Williams shared a stormy relationship for several years in the 1970s. It was John Uecker, Williams’ secretary at the time of his death in 1983, who typed the fi nal manuscript of The Traveling Companion for Williams. Uecker also directed the premiere of the play in 1996 in New York City on a double-bill with T
– Thomas Keith