A Streetcar Named Desire
|A Streetcar Named Desire|
|Written by||Tennessee Williams|
|Date premiered||December 3, 1947|
|Place premiered||Ethel Barrymore Theatre|
New York City, New York
|Setting||The French Quarter and Downtown New Orleans|
A Streetcar Named Desire is a play written by Tennessee Williams and first performed on Broadway on December 3, 1947. The play dramatizes the experiences of Blanche DuBois, a former Southern belle who, after encountering a series of personal losses, leaves her once-prosperous situation to move into a shabby apartment in New Orleans rented by her younger sister and brother-in-law.
Williams' most popular work, A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the most critically acclaimed plays of the twentieth century. It still ranks among his most performed plays, and has inspired many adaptations in other forms, notably a critically acclaimed film that was released in 1951.
After the loss of her family home to creditors, Blanche DuBois travels from the small town of Laurel, Mississippi, to the New Orleans French Quarter to live with her younger married sister, Stella, and Stella's husband, Stanley Kowalski. Blanche is in her thirties and, with no money, has nowhere else to go.
Blanche tells Stella that she has taken a leave of absence from her English-teaching position because of her nerves (which is later revealed to be a lie). Blanche laments the shabbiness of her sister's two-room flat. She finds Stanley loud and rough, eventually referring to him as "common". Stanley, in return, is suspicious of Blanche's motives, does not care for her manners and dislikes her presence. Right from the first scene, Blanche is revealed to be nervous and jittery. She is reluctant to be in the glare of light and seems to have a drinking problem. She is also deceptive and is critical of her sister and her husband.
Stanley later questions Blanche about her earlier marriage. Blanche had married when she was very young, but her husband died due to suicide, leaving her widowed and alone. The memory of her dead husband causes Blanche some obvious distress. We later find out that she suffers from guilt due to the way she had reacted to finding out her husband's sexual orientation. Stanley, worried that he has been cheated out of an inheritance, demands to know what happened to Belle Reve, once a large plantation and the DuBois family home. He tells Stella about the Napoleonic Code which, in those days, was a legal right of a husband over his wife's financial affairs. Blanche hands over all the documents pertaining to Belle Reve. While looking at the papers, Stanley notices a bundle of letters that Blanche emotionally proclaims are personal love letters from her dead husband. For a moment, Stanley seems caught off guard over her proclaimed feelings. Afterwards, he informs Blanche that Stella is going to have a baby. This can be seen as the start of Blanche's mental upheaval.
The night after Blanche's arrival, during one of Stanley's poker games, Blanche meets Mitch, one of Stanley's poker player buddies. His courteous manner sets him apart from the other men. Their chat becomes flirtatious and friendly, and Blanche easily charms him; they like each other. Suddenly becoming upset over multiple interruptions, Stanley explodes in a drunken rage and strikes Stella. Blanche and Stella take refuge with the upstairs neighbor, Eunice. When Stanley recovers, he cries out from the courtyard below for Stella to come back by repeatedly calling her name until she comes down and allows herself to be carried off to bed. Blanche is shocked to see that her sister has returned to her husband right after he assaulted her. After Stella returns to Stanley, Blanche and Mitch sit at the bottom of the steps in the courtyard, where Mitch apologizes for Stanley's coarse behavior.
The next morning, Blanche rushes to Stella and describes Stanley as subhuman, though Stella assures Blanche that she and Stanley are fine. Stanley overhears the conversation but keeps silent. When Stanley comes in, Stella hugs and kisses him, letting Blanche know that her low opinion of Stanley does not matter.
As the weeks pass, the friction between Blanche and Stanley continues to grow. Blanche has hope in Mitch, and tells Stella that she wants to go away with him and not be anyone's problem. During a meeting between the two, Blanche confesses to Mitch that once she was married to a young man, Allan Grey, whom she later discovered in a sexual encounter with an older man. Grey later took his own life when Blanche told him she was disgusted with him. The story touches Mitch, who tells Blanche that they need each other. Mitch himself has lost someone and seems to have empathy with Blanche's situation.
Later on, Stanley repeats gossip to Stella that he has gathered on Blanche, telling her that Blanche was fired from her teaching job for involvement with an under-aged student and that she lived at a hotel known for prostitution. Stella erupts in anger over Stanley's cruelty after he states that he has also told Mitch about the rumors. Later that evening, on Blanche's small birthday party, there is an empty seat at the table and Mitch doesn't show up. Stanley brings up Blanche's past again and a fight ensues, but the fight is cut short as Stella goes into labor and is sent to the hospital.
As Blanche waits at home alone, Mitch arrives and confronts Blanche with the stories that Stanley has told him. At first she denies everything, but eventually confesses that the stories are true. She pleads for forgiveness. An angry and humiliated Mitch rejects her. Nevertheless, he demands intimacy with her, suggesting that it's his right since he has waited for so long for nothing. Blanche threatens to cry fire and tells him to leave.
As Stella is checked-in to give birth, Stanley returns home to find Blanche alone in the apartment. Blanche has descended into another fantasy about an old suitor coming to provide financial support and take her away from New Orleans. She falsely claims that Mitch had asked for her forgiveness but she had rejected him. Stanley goes along with the act before angrily scorning Blanche's lies, hypocrisy and behavior, and calling out her lie about Mitch. He advances toward her; in response, she threatens to attack him with a broken bottle, but is overpowered. Blanche collapses on the floor and Stanley is last seen taking her unconscious into his bed.
At another poker game at the Kowalski apartment, Stella and her neighbor, Eunice, are packing Blanche's belongings while Blanche takes a bath in a catatonic state, having suffered a mental breakdown. Although Blanche has told Stella about Stanley's assault, Stella cannot bring herself to believe her sister's story. When a doctor and a matron arrive to take Blanche to the hospital, she initially resists them and collapses on the floor in confusion. Mitch, present at the poker game, breaks down in tears. When the doctor helps Blanche up, she goes willingly with him, saying: "Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." The play ends with Stanley continuing to comfort a crying Stella, while the poker game continues uninterrupted.
Original Broadway production
The original Broadway production was produced by Irene Mayer Selznick and directed by Elia Kazan. It opened at the Shubert in New Haven in early November 1947, then played the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia before moving to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on December 3, 1947. Selznick originally wanted to cast Margaret Sullavan and John Garfield, but settled on Jessica Tandy and Marlon Brando, who were virtual unknowns at the time. The opening night cast also included Kim Hunter as Stella and Karl Malden as Mitch. Tandy was cast after Williams saw her performance in a West Coast production of his one-act play Portrait of a Madonna. Williams believed that casting Brando, who was young for the part as it was originally conceived, would evolve Kowalski from being a vicious older man to someone whose unintentional cruelty can be attributed to youthful ignorance. Despite its shocking scenes and gritty dialogue, the audience applauded the debut performance. Brooks Atkinson, reviewing the opening in The New York Times, described Tandy's "superb performance" as "almost incredibly true," concluding that Williams "has spun a poignant and luminous story." Later in the run, Uta Hagen replaced Tandy, Carmelita Pope replaced Hunter, 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.
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 version had located it). This was the original conception of the play, and has been reflected in subsequent revivals.
The original Broadway production closed, after 855 performances, in 1949.
- Jessica Tandy as Blanche DuBois
- Karl Malden as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell
- Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski
- Kim Hunter as Stella Kowalski
- Rudy Bond as Steve Hubbell
- Nick Dennis as Pablo Gonzales
- Peg Hillias as Eunice Hubbell
- Vito Christi as Young Collector
- Richard Garrick as Doctor
- Ann Dere as Nurse (later called the Matron)
- Gee Gee James as Negro Woman
- Edna Thomas as Mexican Woman
Other early productions
The first adaptation of Streetcar in Greece was performed in 1948 by Koun's Art Theater, two years before its film adaptation and one year before its London premiere, directed by Karolos Koun starring Melina Mercouri as Blanche and Vasilis Diamantopoulos as Stanley, with original music by Manos Hadjidakis.
The London production, directed by Laurence Olivier, opened at the Aldwych Theatre on October 12, 1949. It starred Bonar Colleano as Stanley, Vivien Leigh as Blanche, Renée Asherson as Stella and Bernard Braden as Mitch.
The first all-black production of Streetcar was likely 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 black and cross-gendered productions of Streetcar since the mid-1950s are too numerous to list here.
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.
A highly publicized and acclaimed revival in 1992 starred Alec Baldwin as Stanley and Jessica Lange as Blanche. It was staged at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, where the original production was staged. 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.
In 1997, Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré 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 was held, staged a production of the play.
Glenn Close starred in Trevor Nunn's 2002 production for the National Theatre at the Lyttleton Theatre, London.
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. The production would mark Natasha Richardson's final appearance on Broadway prior to her death in 2009 following a skiing accident.
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.
In April 2012, Blair Underwood, Nicole Ari Parker, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Wood Harris starred in a multiracial adaptation at the Broadhurst Theatre. Theatre review aggregator Curtain Critic gave the production a score of 61 out of 100 based on the opinions of 17 critics.
A production at the Young Vic, London, opened on July 23, 2014, and closed on September 19, 2014. Directed by Benedict Andrews and starring Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster, Vanessa Kirby and Corey Johnson; this production garnered critical acclaim and is the fastest selling show ever produced by the Young Vic. On September 16, 2014, the performance was relayed live to over one thousand cinemas in the UK as part of the National Theatre Live project. Thus far, the production has been screened in over 2000 venues. From April 23, 2016 till June 4, 2016, the production was reprised at the new St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York City. In 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdowns it was released for free on YouTube as part of the National Theatre At Home series.
In 2016 Sarah Frankcom directed a production at the Royal Exchange in Manchester starring Maxine Peake, Ben Batt, Sharon Duncan Brewster and Youssef Kerkour. It opened on 8 September and closed on 15 October. It was critically well received with Peake's performance in particular singled out for praise.
In 2018, it headlined the third annual Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis at the Grandel Theatre. Carrie Houk, the Festival's Executive Artistic Director, and Tim Ocel, the director of the play, chose to cast the play with actors whose ages were close to Tennessee Williams' original intentions. (The birthday party is for Blanche's 30th birthday.) Sophia Brown starred as Blanche, with Nick Narcisi as Stanley, Lana Dvorak as Stella, and Spencer Sickmann as Mitch. Henry Polkes composed the original score, and James Wolk designed the set. The critics were unanimous in their praise.
In 1951, Warner Bros. released a film adaptation of the play, directed by Elia Kazan. Malden, Brando, and Hunter reprised their Broadway roles. They were joined by Vivien Leigh from the London production in 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). Composer Alex North received an Academy Award nomination for this, his first film score. Jessica Tandy was the only lead actor from the original Broadway production not to appear in the 1951 film. The ending itself was also slightly altered. Stella does not remain with Stanley, as she does in the play.
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 and the play itself plays an important role in the film. 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 Academy Award-winning Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine had much in common with Streetcar and is most likely a loose adaptation. It shares a very similar plot and characters, although it has been suitably updated for modern film audiences.
In 2015, Gillian Anderson directed and starred in a short film prequel to A Streetcar Named Desire, titled The Departure. The short film was written by the novelist Andrew O'Hagan and is part of Young Vic's short film series, which was produced in collaboration with The Guardian.
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.
A 1952 ballet production with choreography by Valerie Bettis, which Mia Slavenska and Frederic Franklin's Slavenska-Franklin Ballet debuted at Her Majesty's Theatre in Montreal, featured the music of Alex North, who had composed the music for the 1951 film.
In the mid 2000s, another production was staged by Winthrop Corey, then Artistic Director of Mobile Ballet.
In 2006, a production was staged by John Alleyne, then Artistic Director of Ballet BC.
In 2018, the Erkel Theatre in Budapest revisited the production with Marianna Venekei choreographing, Iurii Kekalo dancing as Stanley Kowalski, Lea Földi as Blanche DuBois, and Anna Krupp as Stella.
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 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.
In a 1992 episode of The Simpsons, "A Streetcar Named Marge", a musical version of the play, Oh, Streetcar!, was featured. Ned Flanders and Marge Simpson took the leading roles as Stanley and Blanche, respectively.
Bette Bourne and Paul Shaw of the British gay theater company Bloolips, and Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver of the American lesbian theater company Split Britches, collaborated and performed a gender-bent production of Belle Reprieve, a twisted adaption of Streetcar. This theatrical piece creates a "Brechtian 'epic drama'" that relies on the reflective rather than emotional involvement of the audience—a "commentary on the sexual roles and games in Williams's text". Blanche was played by Bette Bourne as "man in a dress", Stanley was played by Peggy Shaw as a "butch lesbian", Mitch was played by Paul Shaw as a "fairy disguised as a man", and Stella was played by Lois Weaver as a "woman disguised as a woman".
The Desire Line ran from 1920 to 1948, at the height of streetcar use in New Orleans. The route ran down Royal, 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: the Desire line itself crossed Elysian Fields Avenue on its way to Canal Street. There, one could transfer to the Cemeteries line, which ran along Canal, blocks away from Elysian Fields.
The character of Blanche is thought to be based on Williams' sister, Rose Williams, who struggled with mental health problems and became incapacitated after a lobotomy. The success of the play enabled Williams to finance his sister's care.  Other biographical elements include William's mother being a Southern lady reflected in the Southern background of Stella and Blanche, and his father being a travelling salesman (as reflected in Stanley's character) who enjoyed drinking and playing poker with his friends. Williams himself was born in Mississippi and had a family home in St. Louis. The common motifs of homosexuality and mental illness in the play come from his own struggle with his sexual orientation and his experience with his sister's mental illness. Stanley's loathing for Blanche's prim and proper attitude probably inspired by Williams’s own father's aversion to his mother's Southern airs.
The 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.
"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
- 1948 New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play
- 1948 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play – Jessica Tandy
- 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
- 1992 Theater World Award for Best Actress in a Play – Jessica Lange
- 2003 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Play – Essie Davis
- 2010 Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Play – Rachel Weisz
- 2010 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Play – Ruth Wilson
- 1988 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play
- 1988 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play – Frances McDormand
- 1988 Tony Award for 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
- 2015 Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Play
- 2015 Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Play – Gillian Anderson
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