Tuesday, March 2, 2021


Alan Mixon, Helena Carroll, David Huffman.

SMALL CRAFT WARNINGS [Drama/Alcoholism/Barroom/Homosexuality/Prostitution/Romance/ Sex] A: Tennessee Williams; D: Richard Altman; DS: Fred Voelpel; L: John Gleason; P: Ecco Productions; T: Truck and Warehouse Theatre (OB); 4/2/72-9/17/72 (200)

Brad Sullivan, Gene Fanning, William Hickey, Helena Carroll, David Hooks, 

In a seedy bar in Southern California coastal town gather an assortment of semi-derelicts: a garrulous, itinerant hairdresser named Leona Dawson (Helena Carroll); Doc (David Hooks), a drunken abortionist; Bill McCorkle (Brad Sullivan), a stud who earns his keep by his sexual prowess with both men and women; Violet (Cherry Davis, replaced by transgender icon Candy Darling), a pathetic hooker; Steve (William Hickey), her middle-aged, short-order cook boyfriend; Quentin (Alan Mixon) and Bobby (David Huffman), an overtly gay couple; and Monk (Gene Fanning), the fatherly barkeep. They talk volubly about their lives and problems, but no substantial narrative emerges.

Small Craft Warnings meanders among its characters and their self-revelations (much of it spoken as spot-lit soliloquies). “It is these sentimental tone poems that do the show in,” griped Edith Oliver. She and others found that conflict and suspense are largely absent, with the emphasis entirely on character exploration. Some, like Clive Barnes, were moved by Williams’s “enormous compassion,” the way he “opens doors into bleak and empty hearts.” As Walter Kerr expressed it, “Mr. Williams’s gift for knowing how people think, feel, and speak reasserts itself . . . enough to keep us firmly attentive.” T. E. Kalem said these people “become the embodiment of the fears that course through all of us at some time or other, the frailties that make us lie, betray any trust, cringe before bullies, vilify others—though in our hearts we wish to do none of those things.” And Henry Hewes thought the playwright’s “passionate concern for the dispossessed” was as “sublime” as ever.

But the consensus held that, touching as these people might be, the lack of dramatic tension and plot were harmful and made the play seem tiresome, verbose, and immobile. Stanley Kauffmann called it “vapid.” John Lahr put the blame on the lack of anything “to discover” about its characters, who confess all there is to know about them. Michael Smith declared that the play lacked “conviction”: “the characters seem trumped up and nudged together carelessly, and the circumstances and incidents impossible to believe.” Martin Gottfried was saddened by “one more stumble in the tragic collapse of one of the finest playwrights in theatre history,” and John Simon also mourned this “feeble self-parody . . . of his former glories.”

Small Craft Warnings originally had been titled Confessional, under which name it had was first published and produced at a workshop in Bar Harbor, Maine. During its New York run it moved to a second theatre and Williams himself appeared in it as Doc, remaining after the show during his first week to chat with the audience.