A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE is one of the great American plays. It and its author Tennessee Williams have probably been written about more than any other dramatic undertaking except UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. Different people have different ideas about the play. Most have favorite lines, Stanley screaming “Stella” Blanche saying “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”. But is this what play is about or are they just memorable moments?
As a director I find it useful to start by interrogating the author as to the meaning of his play. Tennessee Williams in a letter to the play’s first director Elia Kazan says, “I will try to clarify my intentions in this play. I think its best quality is its authenticity or its fidelity to life. There are no good or bad people. Some are a little better or a little worse but all are activated more by misunderstanding than malice….. I don’t necessarily mean realism; sometimes a living quality is caught better by expressionism than what is supposed to be realistic treatment.”
A final word about the casting of Stanley. TW has written a play about people of different classes and their miscommunication. In his America and ours race acts as the primary metaphor for class distinction. If he had been writing in our time he might very well have used color as the caste difference in the play. In the segregated America of the late forties such an attempt to caste a mixed couple, let alone a black man who brutalizes a white woman onstage would have had disastrous consequences.
Would TW be offended by this creative directorial choice ? He was a champion of equal rights, once strongly and publicly protesting that his play was being produced for a racially segregated audience in Washington D.C. I think TW would be fine with an African-American Stanley but, in post Obama America are we ?