A Streetcar Named Desire (play)

A Streetcar Named Desire

1st edition (New Directions)
Written by Tennessee Williams
Characters
Date premiered December 3, 1947
Place premiered Ethel Barrymore Theatre
New York City, New York
Original language English
Genre Southern Gothic
Setting The French Quarter and Downtown New Orleans
IBDB profile

A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1947 play written by American playwright Tennessee Williams[1] for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948. The play opened on Broadway on December 3, 1947, and closed on December 17, 1949, in the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The Broadway production was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden.[2] The London production opened in 1949 with Bonar Colleano, Vivien Leigh, and Renee Asherson and was directed by Laurence Olivier.[1]

Contents

Plot

Widely considered a landmark play, A Streetcar Named Desire deals with a culture clash between two characters, Blanche DuBois, a fading relic of the Old South, and Stanley Kowalski, a rising member of the industrial, urban working class.[1]

The play presents Blanche DuBois, a fading but still-attractive Southern belle whose pretensions to virtue and culture only thinly mask alcoholism and delusions of grandeur. Her poise is an illusion she presents to shield others (but most of all, herself) from her reality, and an attempt to make herself still attractive to new male suitors. Blanche arrives at the apartment of her sister Stella Kowalski in the French Quarter of New Orleans, on Elysian Fields Avenue; the local transportation she takes to arrive there includes a streetcar route named "Desire." The steamy, urban ambiance is a shock to Blanche's nerves. Blanche is welcomed with some trepidation by Stella, who fears the reaction of her husband Stanley. As Blanche explains that their ancestral southern plantation, Belle Reve in Laurel, Mississippi, has been "lost" due to the "epic fornications" of their ancestors, her veneer of self-possession begins to slip drastically. Here "epic fornications" may be interpreted as the debauchery of her ancestors which in turn caused them financial losses. Blanche tells Stella that her supervisor allowed her to take time off from her job as an English teacher because of her upset nerves, when in fact, she has been fired for having an affair with a 17-year-old student. This turns out not to be the only seduction she has engaged in—and, along with other problems, has led her to escape Laurel. A brief marriage marred by the discovery that her spouse, Allan Grey, was having a homosexual affair and his subsequent suicide has led Blanche to withdraw into a world in which fantasies and illusions blend seamlessly with reality.

In contrast to both the self-effacing and deferential Stella and the pretentious refinement of Blanche, Stella's husband, Stanley Kowalski, is a force of nature: primal, rough-hewn, brutish and sensual. He dominates Stella in every way and is physically and emotionally abusive.[1] Stella tolerates his primal behaviour as this is part of what attracted her in the first place; their love and relationship are heavily based on powerful—even animalistic—sexual chemistry, something that Blanche finds impossible to understand.

The arrival of Blanche upsets her sister and brother-in-law's system of mutual dependence. Stella's concern for her sister's well-being emboldens Blanche to hold court in the Kowalski apartment, infuriating Stanley and leading to conflict in his relationship with his wife. Blanche and Stanley are on a collision course, and Stanley's friend and Blanche's would-be suitor, Mitch,[1] will get trampled in their path. Stanley discovers Blanche's past through a co-worker who travels to Laurel frequently, and he confronts her with the things she has been trying to put behind her, partly out of concern that her character flaws may be damaging to the lives of those in her new home, just as they were in Laurel, and partly out of a distaste for pretense in general. However, his attempts to "unmask" her are predictably cruel and violent. In their final confrontation, Stanley rapes Blanche, which results in her nervous breakdown. Stanley has her committed to a mental institution, and in the closing moments, Blanche utters her signature line to the kindly doctor who leads her away: "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

The reference to the streetcar called Desire—providing the aura of New Orleans geography—is symbolic. Blanche not only has to travel on a streetcar route named "Desire" to reach Stella's home on "Elysian Fields" but her desire acts as an irrepressible force throughout the play—she can only hang on as her desires lead her.

The character of Blanche is thought to be based on Williams' sister Rose Williams who struggled with her mental health and became incapacitated after a lobotomy.[1]

Stage productions

Original Broadway production

A 24-year-old Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski on the set of the stage version of A Streetcar Named Desire, photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1948.

The original Broadway production was produced by Irene Mayer Selznick.[2] It opened at the Shubert in New Haven shortly before moving to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on December 3, 1947.[2] Selznick originally wanted to cast Margaret Sullavan and John Garfield, but settled on Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy, who were virtual unknowns at the time. Brando was given car fare to Tennessee Williams' home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he not only gave a sensational reading, but did some house repairs as well. Tandy was cast after Williams saw her performance in a West Coast production of his one-act play Portrait of a Madonna. The opening night cast also included Kim Hunter as Stella and Karl Malden as Mitch.[2] Despite its shocking scenes and gritty dialogue, the audience applauded for half an hour after the debut performance ended.[3]

Later in the run, Uta Hagen replaced Tandy, and Anthony Quinn replaced Brando. Hagen and Quinn took the show on a national tour and then returned to Broadway for additional performances. Early on, when Brando broke his nose, Jack Palance took over his role. Ralph Meeker also took on the part of Stanley both in the Broadway and touring companies. Tandy received a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play in 1948, sharing the honor with Judith Anderson's portrayal of Medea and with Katharine Cornell. Brando portrayed Stanley with an overt sexuality combined with a boyish vulnerability that made his portrait of Stanley and especially the moment where he howls "Stellllllla!" for his wife, into cultural touchstones.

Uta Hagen's Blanche on the national tour was directed not by Elia Kazan, who had directed the Broadway production, but by Harold Clurman, and it has been reported, both in interviews by Miss Hagen and observations by contemporary critics, that the Clurman-directed interpretation shifted the focus of audience sympathy back to Blanche and away from Stanley (where the Kazan/Brando/Tandy version had located it).

Original cast

  • Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski
  • Jessica Tandy as Blanche Du Bois
  • Kim Hunter as Stella Kowalski
  • Karl Malden as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell
  • Rudy Bond as Steve Hubbell
  • Nick Dennis as Pablo Gonzales
  • Peg Hillias as Eunice Hubbell
  • Vito Christi as Young Collector
  • Richard Garrick as Strange Man
  • Ann Dere as Strange Woman
  • Gee Gee James as Negro Woman
  • Edna Thomas as Mexican Woman

Original London production

The London production, directed by Laurence Olivier, opened on October 12, 1949 and starred Bonar Colleano, Vivien Leigh, and Renee Asherson.[1]

Influence on Twentieth-Century Theatre

By the close of the 19th century, theaters began to lose melodrama in their plays. More and more, they focused on a style of acting called “dramatic naturalism”.[4]

By the time A Streetcar Named Desire was written and produced, melodrama was in its last stages and Blanche Dubois' memorable personality used it to illustrate exactly how misleading melodramatic acting could be.

Exaggerated sighs, unnecessary screams of distress and fluttery hand gestures are all employed by Blanche throughout the play. Dramatic lines about needing rescuing (which are now often seen as clichéd) are an internal part of Blanche's working. They veil her true personality, that of a sick, unbalanced woman) and allow her to play with men like Mitch, who falls for her histrionics and becomes convinced he will be her saviour.

With the twentieth century’s arrival came dramatic naturalism, based on Constantin Stanislavski’s method-acting system. Unlike melodrama, dramatic naturalism focused on realistic acting, where actors were asked to recall memories to help them emote realistically during scenes, as per Stanislavski’s method. Streetcar’s first director, Elia Kazan, employed a Stanislavski reading on every play he worked on, and his notes on A Streetcar Named Desire depicted, not a melodramatic villainous Stanley Kowalski, but a defensive, flawed and relatable Stanley which Marlon Brando portrayed remarkably .[5]

Ironically, the biggest example of dramatic naturalism is Blanche’s opponent, Stanley, who in the first production of Streetcar was played by method-actor Marlon Brando. After his exemplary performance as a lustful, animalistic, yet needy Stanley, American theater saw a significant shift away from melodrama and toward dramatic naturalism. Brando has been hailed as the father of theatrical stars like James Dean and Jack Nicholson.[6][7]

Revivals

Tallulah Bankhead, whom Williams had in mind when writing the play, starred in a 1956 New York City Center Company production directed by Herbert Machiz. The production, which was staged at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, was not well received and only ran 300 performances.

The first Broadway revival of the play was in 1973. It was produced by the Lincoln Center, at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, and starred Rosemary Harris as Blanche, James Farentino as Stanley and Patricia Conolly as Stella.[8]

The Spring 1988 revival at the Circle in the Square Theatre starred Aidan Quinn opposite Blythe Danner as Blanche and Frances McDormand as Stella.[9]

A highly publicized 1992 revival starred Alec Baldwin as Stanley and Jessica Lange as Blanche and was staged at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, the same theatre the original production was staged in. This production proved so successful that it was filmed for television. It featured Timothy Carhart as Mitch and Amy Madigan as Stella, as well as future Sopranos stars James Gandolfini and Aida Turturro. Gandolfini was Carhart's understudy.[10]

In 1997, Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre in New Orleans mounted a 50th Anniversary production, with music by the Marsalis family, starring Michael Arata and Shelly Poncy. In 2009, the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, where the original pre-Broadway tryout occurred, began a production of the play for its 200th anniversary season.

The 2005 Broadway revival was directed by Edward Hall and produced by The Roundabout Theater Company. It starred John C. Reilly as Stanley, Amy Ryan as Stella, and Natasha Richardson as Blanche.[11] The production would mark Natasha Richardson's final appearance on Broadway owing to her death in 2009 in a skiing accident.

In January 2009, an African-American production of A Streetcar Named Desire premiered at Pace University, directed by Steven McCasland. The production starred Lisa Lamothe as Blanche, Stephon O'Neal Pettway as Stanley, and Jasmine Clayton as Stella, and featured Sully Lennon as Allan Gray, the ghost of Blanche's dead husband. The first all-black production of "Streetcar" was probably the one performed by the Summer Theatre Company at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri in August 1953 and directed by one of Williams's former classmates at Iowa, Thomas D. Pawley, as noted in the Streetcar edition of the "Plays in Production" series published by Cambridge University Press. The number of black and cross gendered productions of Streetcar since the mid-1950s are much too numerous to list here.

The Sydney Theatre Company production of A Streetcar Named Desire premiered on September 5 and ran until October 17, 2009. This production, directed by Liv Ullmann, starred Cate Blanchett as Blanche, Joel Edgerton as Stanley, Robin McLeavy as Stella and Tim Richards as Mitch.[12]

From July 2009 until October 2009, Rachel Weisz and Ruth Wilson starred in a hugely acclaimed revival of the play in London's West End at the Donmar Warehouse directed by Rob Ashford.

The 2010 Writers' Theater of Chicago production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" was located in Glencoe, Illinois. The final performance of this play was on August 15, 2010.[13]

A production at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, starring Ricardo Antonio Chavira as Stanley, Gretchen Egolf as Blanche and Stacia Rice as Stella, ran from July through August 2010.[citation needed]

In November 2010, an Oxford University student production was staged at the Oxford Playhouse which sold out and was critically acclaimed.[14]

Adaptations

Film

Vivien Leigh in the trailer for A Streetcar Named Desire

In 1951, a film adaptation of the play, directed by Elia Kazan, won several awards, including four Academy Awards. Jessica Tandy was the only lead actor from the original Broadway production not to appear the 1951 film. References to Allan Grey's sexual orientation are essentially removed, due to Hays Code restrictions. Instead, the reason for his suicide is changed to a general "weakness".[15]

Pedro Almodovar's 1999 Academy Award-winning film, All About My Mother, features a Spanish-language version of the play being performed by some of the supporting characters. However, some of the film's dialogue is taken from the 1951 film version, not the original stage version.

Opera

In 1995, an opera was adapted and composed by André Previn with a libretto by Philip Littell. It had its premiere at the San Francisco Opera during the 1998–99 season, and featured Renée Fleming as Blanche.

Ballet

A 1952 ballet production, which was staged at Her Majesty's Theatre in Montreal, featured the music of Alex North, who had composed the music for the 1951 film.

Another ballet production was staged by John Neumeier in Frankfurt in 1983. Music included Visions fugitives by Prokofiev and Alfred Schnittke's First Symphony.

Television

In 1955, the television program Omnibus featured Jessica Tandy reviving her original Broadway performance as Blanche, with her husband, Hume Cronyn, as Mitch. It aired only portions of the play that featured the Blanche and Mitch characters.

The multi-Emmy Award-winning 1984 television version featured Ann-Margret as Blanche, Treat Williams as Stanley, Beverly D'Angelo as Stella and Randy Quaid as Mitch. It was directed by John Erman and the teleplay was adapted by Oscar Saul. The music score by composed by Marvin Hamlisch. Ann-Margret, D'Angelo and Quaid were all nominated for Emmy Awards, but none won. However, it did win four Emmys, including one for cinematographer Bill Butler. Ann-Margret won a Golden Globe award for her performance and Treat Williams was nominated for Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie.

A 1995 television version was based on the highly successful Broadway revival that starred Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange. However, only Baldwin and Lange were from the stage production. The TV version added John Goodman as Mitch and Diane Lane as Stella. This production was directed by Glenn Jordan. Baldwin, Lange and Goodman all received Emmy Award nominations. Lange won a Golden Globe award (for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie), while Baldwin was nominated for Best Actor, but did not win.

In 1998, PBS aired a taped version of the opera adaptation that featured the original San Francisco Opera cast. The program received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Classical Music/Dance Program.

The real streetcar named Desire

The streetcar took its name from Desire Street in the 9th Ward of New Orleans.

The Desire Line ran from 1920 to 1948, at the height of streetcar use in New Orleans. The route ran down Bourbon, through the Quarter, to Desire Street in the Bywater district, and back up to Canal. Blanche's route in the play — "They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at — Elysian Fields!" — is allegorical, taking advantage of New Orleans colorful street names.

A Streetcar Named Success

"A Streetcar Named Success" is an essay by Tennessee Williams about art and the artist's role in society. It is often included in paper editions of A Streetcar Named Desire. A version of this essay first appeared in The New York Times on November 30, 1947, four days before the opening of A Streetcar Named Desire. Another version of this essay, titled "The Catastrophe of Success" is sometimes used as an introduction to The Glass Menagerie.

Awards and nominations

Awards
  • 1948 New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play
  • 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
  • 1992 Theater World Award for Best Actress in a Play – Jessica Lange
  • 2010 Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Play – Rachel Weisz
  • 2010 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Play – Ruth Wilson
Nominations
  • 1948 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play – Jessica Tandy
  • 1988 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play
  • 1988 Best Actress in a Play – Frances McDormand
  • 1988 Best Actress in a Play – Blythe Danner
  • 1992 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play – Alec Baldwin
  • 2005 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play – Amy Ryan
  • 2005 Tony Award for Best Costume Design of a Play
  • 2005 Tony Award for Best Lighting Design of a Play
  • 2010 Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Play

Auction Records

On October 1, 2009, Swann Galleries auctioned an unusually fine copy of A Streetcar Named Desire, New York, 1947, signed by Williams and dated 1976 for $9,000, a record price for a signed copy of the book.

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Williams, Tennessee (1995). A Streetcar Named Desire. Introduction and text. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers.
  2. ^ a b c d Production notes. Dec. 3, 1947—Dec. 17, 1949
  3. ^ December 3, This Day In History Calendar (2008). Sourcebooks, Inc.
  4. ^ Hornbrook, David. Education and Dramatic Art. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 1998. Print.
  5. ^ Bak, John S. "Criticism on A Streetcar Named Desire: A Bibliographic Survey, 1947-2003." Cercles.10 (2004): 3-32. Web. 9 Mar 2011.
  6. ^ Esch, Kevin. "I Don't See Any Method At All": The Problem of Actorly Transformation." Journal of Film and Video. 58 (2008): 95-107. Web.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger. "A Streetcar Named Desire." Rev. of A Streetcar Named Desire, dir. Elia Kazan. Roger Ebert Reviews 12 May 1993. Web.
  8. ^ A Streetcar Named Desire, 1973 – Link to New York Times Review
  9. ^ Production notes. Mar.10 – May 22, 1988
  10. ^ Production notes. Apr. 12—Aug. 9, 1992
  11. ^ Production notes. Apr. 26 – July 3, 2005
  12. ^ "A Streetcar Named Desire". SydneyTheatre.com.au. Sydney Theatre Company. http://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/2009/astreetcarnameddesire. Retrieved 21 June 2011. 
  13. ^ "A Streetcar Named Desire". WritersTheatre.org. 2010-08-15. http://www.writerstheatre.org/boxoffice/production?id=0075. Retrieved 2011-06-21. 
  14. ^ OTR reviews A Streetcar Named Desire at Oxford Playhouse | Oxford Theatre Review
  15. ^ Cohan, Steven (1997). Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 254. ISBN 0-253-21127-1. http://books.google.com/?id=UACyelofecEC&pg=PA254&lpg=PA254&dq=%22allan+gray%22+suicide+blanche#PPA254,M1. Retrieved 2008-07-11. 

External links


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