A Streetcar Named Desire

Monday, May 7, 2012


A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams
★★★★☆

Blanche is a southern belle whose youth is beginning to fade. She goes
to visit her younger sister Stella in New Orleans and quickly finds
herself out of her element in the city. Stella is married to a Polish
brute named Stanley who is none too pleased to have his waifish
sister-in-law in his home. He’s determined to expose Blanche’s true
nature and the problems she seems to be hiding.

Blanche’s life fell apart when her young, sweet husband committed
suicide. Since then she’s slowly lost control of things, but chooses
to pretend that everything is going swimmingly; ignoring her problems
in the hopes that they’ll disappear. She clings to her long absent
aurora of virginal innocence in the hopes that ignorance really will
provide bliss.

Williams had such a brilliant way of painting the most vivid, broken
characters. He creates stories built around life’s disappointments and
heart-breaks and pulls you into the characters’ dysfunctions.

Here’s the thing about reading plays, they’re not meant to be consumed
that way so you really need to judge them by a different scale.
Obviously you aren’t going to have three paragraphs describing the
characters’ relationships and struggles; it’s all about the dialogue.
You have to think about the way they would be staged and the emotions
that would be conveyed when you saw it live. I’m especially reminded
of this whenever I read Shakespeare. His work is brilliant, but so
many innuendos or intense moments are missed when we skim a line of
dialogue on the page.

That being said, I really enjoyed Streetcar. I watched the movie years
ago, but I really wish I could see it performed. There’s something so
visceral about that infamous scene when a drunk Stanley (Marlon Brando
in the film), stands in the street screaming for his wife,
“Stel-lahhhhh!”

BOTTOM LINE: I really liked it, but as it is with any play, I have no
doubt that it’s better on stage than the page.

“Oh you can’t describe someone you’re in love with.”

7 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

I wish this were available in book form! I'm not sure I have the patience to read a play. But the movie is FABULOUS! You just feel like your heart is going to explode there are the end!

Jeanne said...

The Elia Kazan film is still available, and for many that's become the definitive version. I never think of Blanche as waifish or Stanley as brutish--that's just how she sees things. And she is crazy, even though it's a kind of crazy I get caught up in. I also don't want realism; I want magic.

Kate said...

I've heard of this and never read it! I've never even seen the movie! I added it to my wishlist.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - The play is a really quick read. It's actually easy to get through.

Jeanne - I just watched the movie again after finishing the book. It's so good! That's a great point about Blanche being crazy. We are seeing things through her POV, which is clearly distorted.

Kate - I'll be interested to hear your thoughts!

manymediamusings said...

There are definitely some plays that aren't that great on the page (those of Samuel Beckett spring to mind for me), but I found that Streetcar was an amazing read in itself. I read it before seeing the 1951 film version, and the story gripped me completely. I haven't yet seen it performed on stage (which I'm sure would be amazing), but the film version is just incredible. Brando seems to get all the praise (and is most certainly deserving), but I really think that Leigh's performance is just as good; the film wouldn't be as powerful if she hadn't nailed the final scene.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

manymediamusings - Beckett is a great example. I agree that Streetcar was great as play to read. I felt the same way about Twelve Angry Men. The tension translated well from the page. Brando and Leigh were both fantastic in the film! I thought Karl Malden was really wonderful too.

Jillian said...

I read this play and strongly disliked it, but I watched it a year later, and it made a buch better impact. (I watched the Vivien Leigh version.) :)