A Streetcar Named Desire (play)

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A Streetcar Named Desire
StreetcarNamedDesire.JPG
First edition (New Directions)
Written byTennessee Williams
Characters
Date premieredDecember 3, 1947
Place premieredEthel Barrymore Theatre
New York City, New York
Original languageEnglish
GenreSouthern Gothic
SettingThe French Quarter and Downtown New Orleans
 
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A Streetcar Named Desire
StreetcarNamedDesire.JPG
First edition (New Directions)
Written byTennessee Williams
Characters
Date premieredDecember 3, 1947
Place premieredEthel Barrymore Theatre
New York City, New York
Original languageEnglish
GenreSouthern Gothic
SettingThe French Quarter and Downtown New Orleans

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]

Plot[edit]

Blanche DuBois is a fading, though still attractive Southern belle who clings to high-toned Southern customs of decorum. Her pretensions to virtue and culture thinly mask her alcoholism and delusions of grandeur. Her poise is part of a persona she presents to shield others (but most of all herself) from her reality, and also makes her still attractive to men. Blanche arrives at the apartment of her sister, Stella Kowalski, on Elysian Fields Avenue in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans; one of the streetcars she takes to get there is named "Desire." The steamy, urban ambiance of Stella's home is a shock to Blanche's nerves. Stella, who fears the reaction of her husband Stanley, welcomes Blanche with affection as well as some trepidation. 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. Blanche tells Stella that her supervisor allowed her to take time off from her position as an English teacher because of her upset nerves, while in reality she was fired for having an affair with a 17-year-old student. This turns out not to be the only behavior which has led to her leaving Laurel. A brief marriage marred by the discovery that her young husband, Allan Grey, was having a homosexual affair, and his subsequent suicide, has led Blanche to withdraw into a world in which her fantasies and illusions blend seamlessly with reality.

In contrast to the self-effacing and deferential Stella and the pretentious and intrusive refinement of Blanche, Stella's husband, Stanley Kowalski, is a rough, brutish, sensual blue-collar worker. He and Stella are deeply in love and a passionate sexual relationship is implied.[1] Stella tolerates his primal behavior, which is part of what attracted her in the first place. Their relationship is volatile, argumentative, and heavily based on powerful sexual chemistry, something that Blanche finds difficult to understand. Stanley reveals Stella's pregnancy to Blanche, who has already divined it, noting that her sister is "plump as a little partridge" and that it is "becoming" to her. It is intimated that Stella frequently leaves Stanley and retreats upstairs to stay with a friend, but has always returned.

Blanche's arrival upsets her sister and brother-in-law's relationship dynamics and 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 between him and Stella. Blanche and Stanley are on a collision course, and Stanley's friend and Blanche's would-be suitor, Harold "Mitch" Mitchell,[1] inadvertently joins Stanley in further destroying Blanche. Stanley discovers Blanche's past through a co-worker who travels to Laurel frequently, and he confronts her with the things that she has been trying to put behind her, partly out of concern that her character flaws may be damaging to others, as they were in Laurel, and partly out of frustration and disgust with her pretense. His attempts to make her admit to her past are cruelly direct, but Blanche has rationalized events in her mind. While Stella has the baby, Stanley and Blanche are left alone in the apartment. In their final confrontation, it is strongly implied that Stanley rapes Blanche, resulting in her psychotic break. Stanley and a reluctant Stella have her committed to a mental institution. 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 character of Blanche is thought to be based on Williams' sister, Rose Williams, who struggled with mental health issues and became incapacitated after a lobotomy.[1]

Stage productions[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

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 "Stella!" 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 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).

The original Broadway production closed after 855 performances in 1949.

Original cast[edit]

Original London production[edit]

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[edit]

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's 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 savior.

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 Streetcar depicted not a melodramatic villainous Stanley Kowalski, but a defensive, flawed, and relatable Stanley, whom Marlon Brando portrayed well.[5]

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, animal-like, 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[edit]

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 Theater, 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 revival in 1992 starred Alec Baldwin as Stanley and Jessica Lange as Blanche. It was staged at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, the same theatre that 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]

In April 2012, Blair Underwood, Nicole Ari Parker, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Wood Harris starred in a multiracial adaptation at the Broadhurst Theatre.[15] Theatre review aggregator Curtain Critic gave the production a score of 61 out of 100 based on the opinions of 17 critics.[16]

A production at the Young Vic is scheduled for the summer of 2014, directed by Benedict Andrews and starring Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster and Vanessa Kirby.

Adaptations[edit]

Film[edit]

Vivien Leigh in the trailer for A Streetcar Named Desire

In 1951, a film adaptation of the play, directed by Elia Kazan, with Brando, Malden and Hunter reprising their Broadway roles, joined by Vivien Leigh from the London production for the part of Blanche. The movie won four Academy Awards, including three acting awards (Leigh for Best Actress, Malden for Best Supporting Actor and Hunter for Best Supporting Actress), the first time a film won three out of four acting awards (Brando was nominated for Best Actor but lost). Jessica Tandy was the only lead actor from the original Broadway production not to appear in the 1951 film. References to Allan Grey's sexual orientation are essentially removed, due to Motion Picture Production Code restrictions. Instead, the reason for his suicide is changed to a general "weakness".[17]

Pedro Almodóvar'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.

It was noted by many critics that the 2013 Woody Allen film, Blue Jasmine, had much in common with Streetcar and is most likely to be a loose adaptation. It shares a very similar plot and characters, although it has been suitably updated for modern film audiences.[18][19]

Opera[edit]

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[edit]

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.

In 2012, Scottish Ballet collaborated with theatre and film director Nancy Meckler and international choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa to create a new staging of A Streetcar Named Desire.[20]

Television[edit]

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.

Inspirations[edit]

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's colorful street names.

Theatre critic and former actress Blanche Marvin, a friend of Williams, says the playwright used her name for the character Blanche DuBois, named the character's sister Stella after Marvin's former surname "Zohar" (which means "Star"), and took the play's line "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers" from something she said to him.[21]

"A Streetcar Named Success"[edit]

"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[edit]

Awards
Nominations

Auction record[edit]

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[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f 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. Books.google.ca. 1998-01-14. ISBN 9780415168847. Retrieved 2012-09-26. 
  5. ^ "Bak, John S. "Criticism on A Streetcar Named Desire: A Bibliographic Survey, 1947–2003." ''Cercles''.10 (2004): 3–32. Web. 9 Mar 2011." (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-26. 
  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". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved 2012-09-26. 
  8. ^ Barnes, Clive (1973-04-27). "A Streetcar Named Desire, 1973 – Link to New York Times Review". Select.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-09-26. 
  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. Archived from the original on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 21 June 2011. 
  13. ^ "A Streetcar Named Desire". WritersTheatre.org. 2010-08-15. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-21. 
  14. ^ "OTR reviews A Streetcar Named Desire at Oxford Playhouse". Oxford Theatre Review. 2012-07-26. Retrieved 2012-09-26. 
  15. ^ "Blair Underwood On Stanley, Stella And 'Streetcar'". National Public Radio. 2012-05-01. Retrieved 2012-05-02. 
  16. ^ "A Streetcar Named Desire". Curtain Critic. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  17. ^ Cohan, Steven (1997). Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 254. ISBN 0-253-21127-1. Retrieved 2008-07-11. 
  18. ^ "Movie Review: Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine Is Perhaps His Cruelest-Ever Film". Vanity Fair. Retrieved September 12, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen's excellent homage to A Streetcar Named Desire". Tri-city Herald. Retrieved September 12, 2013. 
  20. ^ "A Streetcar Named Desire: Nancy Meckler and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa (2012)". Retrieved 11 October 2013. 
  21. ^ Clark, Nick (27 July 2014). "Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'". The Independent. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 

External links[edit]