“At the end of week two of rehearsals the beauty and craft of Tennessee Williams’ sublime play reveals itself in all its profound complexity minute by minute. I feel more than anything immensely privileged to be working with such material, and with such a skilled and committed team. Indebted really for the invitation from the Lyric Theatre.
It’s a challenge when faced with such an iconic play which, more than most has seeped into the collective conscience. We have cultural images embedded in our psyche and more often than not a sense that we ‘know’ what A Streetcar Named Desire is about and ‘who’ these humans are, or in an academic sense ‘what’ they represent. Even The Simpsons gave it a shot and deconstructed this narrative to hilarious effect.
On re-reading the play and studying Tennessee’s fascinating diaries I became curious how this story has been defined by its casting. Has there ever been a play whose dynamic has been dictated by the age of the actors cast? In Elia Kazan’s seminal interpretation the sympathy of the audience was influenced by the casting of a very young Marlon Brando recalibrating the sympathy from Blanche DuBois towards the war-brutalised Stanley Kowalski. In most contemporary productions of both film and theatre the role of Blanche has been played by wonderful middle-aged actors, allowing these talented artists to flex their hard won creative acumen in interpreting the most ephemeral and challenging of female roles. It is testament to the quality of the writing that it is able to hold such diverse readings – but at the end of the day each has to find their own way through in the realisation from abstract theory to actuality.
I am curious to see what it means to cast, as written, Blanche as a younger woman – it is her thirtieth birthday party. What does it mean for a woman to feel the loss of her agency at such an age? And why is Stanley so threatened by her? Stella’s line resonates ‘You needn’t have been so cruel to someone alone as she is.’ This cruelty is only possible when it’s a reflection of itself. Williams has not given to Stanley, nor should he have, the vocabulary which Blanche has in abundance, he does not give Stanley the airtime to articulate the experience of what it is to be a man who has witnessed so much death and destruction (like Blanche) but his only means for expression are his primal howl, his blinding episodes of violence. His deep heartfelt fear of losing what has been hard won. Is this what we bequeath in the delineation of our gender roles? Blanche has an abundant emotional vocabulary and no traction, and Stanley all the power but no facility to translate his complex emotional truth outside of a primal need to protect by whatever means his own position. In 2019 when we are leaning into the thorny issues around gender, power, and consent any ambiguity posited around the nature of Stanley’s physical assault of Blanche is unacceptable.
The terrible understanding Blanche and Stanley share is fundamentally about how precious and terrifying it is to love and be loved. And Stella, oh Stella -no wonder she clings as all have done through time in memoriam to the prospect of hope and light and a fresh start in the face of her newborn child. Mitch is happy to put Blanche on a pedestal and adore her or equally strip her of worship and treat her as his whore. Even in 2019 in an era of what we hope is progressive in the examination of our roles in relation to our genders – why does this play feel so contemporary?
Tennessee Williams said ‘If I am no longer disturbed myself, I will deal less with disturbed people, but I don’t regret having concerned myself with them because I think most of us are disturbed.’ I concur with Mr Williams’ sentiments and I disturbingly do not feel disturbed by Blanche’s escalating mental health crisis – or any of these characters for all are trying desperately to find a way through the space and time in which they find themselves. What’s interesting and mysterious to me is how these beautiful and flawed human beings seem incapable of holding each other’s fractured truths. Their individual fight to survive in a ruthless world which does not allow the space for such things.
So week two and on we will go and a hundred more questions will rise and we shall relish the challenge and hope that you will embrace this world as we do.”
– Emma Jordan, Director
Find out about A Streetcar Named Desire here.