In the latter years of his life, playwright Tennessee Williams regularly complained of persecution by the critics. But he couldn't stop talking to journalists and poured out the lurid details of his past with what seemed to be astonishing frankness, punctuated by an equally astonishing cackle.

Writer Charlotte Chandler was one of those who tape-recorded his conversations and later published them in a book of celebrity interviews titled "The Ultimate Seduction." Such is the slender inspiration for "Confessions of a Nightingale," the 90-minute one-man show that opened Wednesday night at the New Playwrights' Theatre. And a shallow tribute it is to the man who remains, arguably, America's greatest playwright.

Williams is portrayed by Ray Stricklyn, who, although he is dressed appropriately in a white linen suit and open-collared shirt and manages to approximate the playwright's drawling accent, nevertheless suggests nothing so much as comic Rip Taylor doing a Williams impersonation. There was a buffoonish side to Williams, especially after he'd had a couple of glasses of white wine and decided he'd found a sympathetic ear. But nothing about "Confessions of a Nightingale" suggests that the endeavor is meant to be less than celebratory of the great man -- his pain, his wisdom, his gallantry and, oh yes, his pain.

Billed as "an intimate visit" with the author in his Key West home, the text addresses Williams' homosexuality, his pervasive sense of loneliness, his bouts with madness. He talks about the death of his lover, Frank Merlo, the only man who loved him for what he was, not because he was a famous writer. And he tearfully resurrects the guilt he felt after his sister Rose was forced to undergo a lobotomy.

In a bawdier mood, he tells anecdotes about Tallulah Bankhead ("I suppose you could describe Tallulah as a tramp, but only in the elegant sense of the word"); Anna Magnani, feeding the stray cats of Rome with restaurant leftovers; "dear, dear, dear Carson McCullers"; and "little Truman {Capote}," whose "voice was so high it could be detected only by bats."

Ah, but the evening has its grand themes, too -- Williams' assertion that the only unforgivable sin is deliberate cruelty, that unremitting work is his only source of redemption, and -- stop the presses! -- that he "always put a great deal of myself" in his writing.

To anyone remotely familiar with Williams, this is not particularly revelatory stuff and one can't say that Chandler and Stricklyn, who coauthored the text, have orchestrated the bavardage in a manner that might suggest that the man is anything other than what he says he is. There is no subtext here -- just a sentimental acceptance of Williams in one of his self-dramatizing moods.

Yet those who knew him were aware that there was a craftiness behind his apparent willingness to divulge the squalor and agony of his life. He liked to give a good show, being something of an actor as well as a playwright. Part of him distinctly relished the role of poor, pitiful Pearl.

Reveling in the low estate to which he had fallen as an author (he continually reminded you), he seemed disarmingly naked. It didn't take a lot of intuition, however, to sense that candor was Williams' defense mechanism, masking a far tougher, shrewder man than was readily apparent. "Confessions of a Nightingale" is all too content to swallow his lament that "I spent my life waiting for something wonderful to happen," and drape him with the mantle of the doomed artist.

Stricklyn's unblended performance shows us Williams being remorseful, outrageous, indignant, self-mocking, teary and wise by turns. But it has no hidden depths, no countervailing complexities, no tantalizing ambiguities. This is the acting equivalent of painting by numbers.

Now and then, a good one-liner pokes its head out of the general wallowing. Of his roots, he observes, "There was insanity on three sides of my family and great eccentricity on the fourth." Borrowing from Dorothy Parker, he chirps, "Scratch an actor, you'll find an actress." After detailing his sexual escapades, he concludes, "An advantage of being homosexual is that I didn't have to pay all that alimony."

I suppose it can all be considered vaguely lifelike. But doesn't Disney make talking mannequins for this sort of thing?

Confessions of a Nightingale, by Charlotte Chandler and Ray Stricklyn. With Ray Stricklyn. At the New Playwrights' Theatre through June 28.