A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

I’ve been sitting on this for a while since this is my first time reviewing a play in the written format as opposed to watching it in a theatre so I apologise if it’s a bit wonky. In short, I loved it; it sucked me in right from the beginning.

Despite never having read or watched ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ I was still aware of the general themes and plot; it’s too prominent in modern American literature:

  • I was already aware of the big ‘Stella!’ yell from Kowalski and the infamous “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers”. Those lines are too iconic in pop culture for me to not know.
  • I knew that it would end in tragedy; nothing good comes from a play where collapse of mental health is intertwined with fall from social grace.
  • I’ve never seen the movie with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh but it’s so difficult to imagine anyone else playing Blanche Dubois or Stanley Kowalski.

(But all cards on the table, my first exposure to ‘Streetcar’ was the Simpson’s parody and I kept getting flashbacks of Flander screaming “Stella” and Marge making out with Apu.)

Since everything is driven by dialogue, I can’t really comment on the imagery or scenery description. And to appreciate a play fully, there is no greater substitute than to view it. You just see how the entire stage is utilized and all the extra elements that are used to drive home the themes. I want to hear what kind of polka music is being played whenever Blanche flirts with the fine line between mental stability and instability. I want to see how the shadows are used to foreshadow the inevitable showdown between Blanche and Stanley. I want to see Stanley stalk and dominate the stage. Imagination doesn’t get me very far.

But the sheer force of this story and the interactions between the characters was enough for me to lose myself in the plot. Blanche may jump out of the page with her drama, hypocrisy and vulnerability but Stanley’s animalistic behaviour is the spark needed to make Blanche’s tragic descent all the more believable.

I also loved the juxtapositions that didn’t feel anvilicious; the contrasts between the old and the new world (and just what it takes to survive in the new world); and the contrasts between brash masculinity and something softer. Without this sounding like a SparkNotes entry, Williams was able to pack a lot in the eleven short scenes.

I don’t know as much as I’d like to about American culture or history and it’s one thing to pick up a history textbook, but it’s another to see how it’s portrayed in popular literary classics. I think you get a better idea of how America perceived themselves during the 1930s from ‘Streetcar’ and that is a difficult feat for any author, especially in a play format.

Reading a play isn’t the same as seeing it performed live so I want to be able to see it in a theatre one day, although I don’t know if us Australians could do it justice; this story is so inherently American. But just reading the play alone has made me fall in love with ‘Streetcar’ so watching the play is definitely on my bucket list.

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