1) What is the provenance of the text?
In the UCLA library there is a folder, deposited in 1970, with unnumbered pages, marked in Tennessee Williams’ handwriting “The Day on Which a Man Dies, an Occidental Noh play dedicated to Yukio Mishima. Finished 1960.” The American scholar Allean Hale, her interest piqued by a throwaway comment Williams made in an interview that he had written a Noh play, tracked down the text and first wrote about it in 1991. A later version of the text — dated 1971 with significant differences — was circulated by Williams’ agents in the ’70s and performed in 2001 at the White Barn Theater in Connecticut. The 2007 Chicago production of The Day on Which a Man Dies is the world premiere of the original UCLA text, edited by Annette Saddik, which will be published by New Directions in the spring of 2008.
2)Is this a version of the 1968 play titled A Bar in a Tokyo Hotel ?Speculation that The Day on Which a Man Dies is an early draft of “Bar” or a re-write of “Bar” is not supported by either text, nor by drafts of either text. Confusion exists because the earlier “Day” text was unavailable for comparison. Though some of the “Day” roles — painter and lover — are reconfigured in “Bar” there is not one line of dialog in common and the action onstage is quite different. Most of “Day” takes place inside two adjoining hotel rooms in Tokyo. A small scene in “Day” presents the painter’s lover alone in a bar on the Ginza, pointedly not a hotel, and pointedly not in the company of anyone other than the audience. The biggest diffrence is that “Bar” is traditional fourth wall realism, “Day” is a Noh play.
3) What does it mean the play is subtitled “An Occidental Noh Play”
Noh theater is a 14th century Japanese theater form combining dance, music, story-telling and enactment. “Day” uses a similar combination onstage. If Western comedy intends to makes audiences laugh, and Western tragedy intends to make audiences cry, the intent of Noh is make audiences feel “yugen” – “still beauty.” Williams’ knowledge of Noh came from his friendship with Yukio Mishima, who wrote a series of Modern Noh Plays, five of them published in English in 1957. In 1958, Williams’ publisher, New Directions, published The Classic Noh Theatre of Japan by Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa. Williams probably read this — at least he follows the “Noh” spelling rather than “No.”
4) How is it that the text is dedicated to Yukio Mishima?
Mishima, the Japanese homoerotic post WWII novelist, was a personal friend of Williams. The two met casually on the street in Manhattan in 1957, then formally at the offices of New Directions two days later. Williams visited Japan as Mishima’s guest in 1959, then again in 1969. Mishima committed hara-kiri in 1970 at the age of 45.
5) What is the source of the theatrical imagery in the play?
Williams seems to have been aware of the Japanese art movement called Gutai. Crucial stage directions in The Day on Which a Man Diesappropriate aspects of Gutai performance art: in particular the death of the painter and the eccentric means by which paintings are created onstage. See below for still photographs and YouTube clips. The Gutai were inspired by Jackson Pollock, whose friendship with Williams dates to 1940 Provincetown.
6) Where is this text in the timeline of Williams’ work and life?
As The Day on Which a Man Dies was being written between 1957 and 1959, Williams was working on other plays — Sweet Bird of Youth, The Night of the Iguana (with which “Day” shares a speech), the comedyPeriod of Adjustment — and the films of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) andThe Fugitive Kind (1959). After the critically reviled experiments of Camino Real in 1953, the playwright had gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1956. In 1957 Williams was 46, and in the 11th year of his relationship with Frank Merlo. Jackson Pollack had died the year before. Significantly, Williams began to see a psychiatrist in 1957.