My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.”
From the master of plays about dysfunctional relationships, this must be the most brutal and best Tennessee Williams ever penned. In ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ the raw masculine brutality of Stanley Kowalski clashes with the paper-thin deluded dreams of his Southern belle sister-in-law Blanche. The sheer incompatibility of these two personalities and the way Williams mercilessly pits them against each other completely floored me. The usual themes of death, life, desire and dubious sexuality are rife in this portrait of imminent physical and psychological undoing.
Williams is known for his generous stage directions and scene set ups, which makes it a joy to read on the page. This is a play full of very high contrast scenes and takes you from soft, gentle moments to earth-shattering ones. The battle of the sexes has never been so clearly presented as Stanley is the ultimate symbol of unyielding masculine sexuality, whereas Blanche represents the fragility of womankind. It is an unflinching looks at the pressure’s of womanhood and how compromises such as making excuses for other people’s shortcomings, glossing over major faults and ‘normalising’ domestic brutality was commonplace and expected of them.
“I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And it that’s sinful, then let me be damned for it!”
I have heard a lot about this play, on how Blanche is the only character who doesn’t belong in Williams red-blooded multicultural world, but I beg to differ. Blanche is a women severely wounded by life, but who always tries to cover up the cracks that have come about in her personality as a result of her disillusionment with reality. Stanley on the other hand may seem like the realist, but his final act of brutality (the one that pushes Blanche to the edge of sanity) is more sinister than Blanche’s desire to live in a make-believe world. She may be the one lying to people willy-nilly in order to make up for her shortcomings, but Stanley is far more dangerous and displays a very feminine trait of trapping people into his web, that of sexual promise.
“I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don’t tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth.”
It was fascinating to see how Williams linked one event to another and at one point allowed us to see into the head of Blanche just when she was breaking up. This is no mean feat, but nothing is too hard for Williams and the subtle effects of music and lighting for me were innovative and eye-opening. ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ is one to be read first and then seen on the stage. Shame that the late, great Marlon Brando is no longer with us, as I would love to have seen him perform this live as Stanley Kowalski. But heigh-ho, at least we have the film by Elia Kazan as consolation.
- A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) #47 (watchingafi100.wordpress.com)
- LIFE with Marlon Brando: Early Photos (life.time.com)
- Film: Watch This: New Orleans on film in honor of Killing Them Softly (1 of 5): A Streetcar Named Desire (avclub.com)
- Look for the subtle gay references as ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ from 1951 arrives on Blu-ray (miamiherald.typepad.com)