Theater: A Sweatbox Named Desire

A lost Tennessee Williams play reveals an unlikely social crusader

In 1938, when he was still struggling to find his voice as a playwright, Tom Williams, 27, read a newspaper account of four inmates at a Pennsylvania prison who died after being left to roast inside a superheated chamber dubbed "Klondike." The story spurred him to expand a one-act play he had written about prison life to a full-length drama he titled Not About Nightingales. Williams entered the play in a contest for young dramatists held by the famed Group Theatre. (Since he was two years over the age limit, he lied about his birth date and signed with a pseudonym--Tennessee,...

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