The play premiered on Broadway at the Royale Theatre on December 28, 1961, and ran for 316 performances. It starred Patrick O'Neal as Rev. Shannon, two-time Oscar winner Bette Davis as Maxine and Margaret Leighton as Hannah. Davis left the production after four months and was replaced by Shelley Winters.
Davis' role was Maxine, a lusty life-force of a woman, with some good comic lines, who is offstage for a significant part of the play, while Hannah is on. Hannah is a role along the lines of Williams' greatest female characters, like Blanche DuBois and Summer and Smoke's Alma Winemuller, women possessed of extraordinarily refined sensibilities and grace. But for her intrinsic strength of character, Hannah is a departure for Williams. Hannah, a single woman in service to others, serves as an inspiration to Shannon for her inner strength, a strength denied to Blanche and Alma in their plays, although they share other similarities. The play featured Alan Webb as the dying grandfather to whom Hannah is devoted, Louis Guss, Bruce Glover and James Farentino. The production was directed by Frank Corsaro (Bette Davis in her memoir Dark Victory, wrote that she banned Corsaro from rehearsals shortly before opening). The play was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play. Leighton, as Hannah, won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.