A Streetcar Named Desire September 21 through October 20
Curriculum and Study Guide
Acknowledgments Page Special thanks to Geva Theatre in Rochester, NY, (for their Streetcar Named Desire study guide, 1990), Charles Schiller, Laguna Beach High School (for his South Coast Repertory Streetcar Named Desire Study Guide, 1994), and Tamerin Dygert, Hippodrome (FL) State Theatreâ€™s dramaturg, for graciously permitting us to quote and reference their fine work.
Thank you to M&T Bank for their sponsorship of A Streetcar Named Desire.
A Streetcar Named Desire Table of Contents Performance Policies and Procedures
New York State Learning Standards
Audience Role and Responsibility
One-Minute Etiquette Reminder
Setting, Synopsis, Characters
Questions for After Reading the Story (or Script)
For Further Discussion
Quotations from the Play
Dramaturgical research for A Streetcar Named Desire prepared by Pat Pederson, Education Associate; curriculum activities prepared by Richard Keller, Director of Dramaturgy and Education; cover design by the artistic office. 1
PERFORMANCE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES WHEN TO ARRIVE AT THE THEATRE: We recommend you arrive at the theatre at least 30 minutes prior to the performance to allow time for seating. This is a professional theatre production and will start at the scheduled time. BUS DROP OFF AND PARKING: Busses not staying may load and unload at the Centro bus stop on East Genesee Street. Bus parking is available along East Genesee Street at the bagged meters. Cars must make arrangements in parking facilities as they will be ticketed if parked at the bagged meters. SEAT ASSIGNMENTS: As each seat at Syracuse Stage is reserved and performances are often standing room only, students must sit in their assigned seats. For reasons of convenience, efficiency, and courtesy, we request that students do not trade seats. Regardless of the number in your block of seats, we request that this rule is respected. We ask that chaperons and teachers do not sit together but sit evenly distributed throughout the students. LATECOMERS: Latecomers will be seated at the discretion of the Management. There is no late seating below Row F. BACKPACKS, CAMERAS, AND WALKMANS: Backpacks, cameras and tape recorders (including Walkmans) are strictly prohibited in the theatre. As we do not have storage facilities for these items at Syracuse Stage, we ask that you leave them at school or on the bus. PHOTOGRAPHY: Cameras (flash or otherwise) are strictly prohibited in the theatre. Union rules do not allow the taking of pictures during a production and flash cameras are a distraction to both acting company and audience. FOOD, DRINK AND GUM: There is absolutely no food, drink, or gum allowed in the theatre. Please leave snacks and lunches on the bus. Students will be asked to leave the theatre to remove any food items or the items will be taken and not returned. INTERMISSION REFRESHMENTS: Soda will be available during intermission. Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and 7Up will be offered for $1.00 (exact change will be appreciated). Reminder: You must dispose of all snack items before reentering the theatre. AUDIENCE ETIQUETTE: Live performance theatres require behavior different from that required in the movie theatres. Please review theatre etiquette with your students before attending the performance. If any student becomes disruptive to the point of interference with the performers or other audience members, the chaperon will be asked to remove that student.
POST-SHOW FOLLOW UP: Performances at Syracuse Stage are funded by grants, corporations, and individuals. They do want to hear from you. We ask students and teachers to write the sponsors with your likes and dislikes and to let the sponsors know that the student matinees are an important program. Please: 1] Write thank you letters to the sponsors to let them know that this is an important program. (Names and addresses can be obtained from the Director of Education.) 2] Write to Syracuse Stage with suggestions to improve your theatre experience. 3] Call the Director of Education if you have any questions or if there is an issue that requires immediate action. Thank you in advance for the work you put into helping Syracuse Stage present the student matinee program. We hope that the season entertains and enlightens you and your students. Part of the art of living is living with the arts.
PEOPLE YOU SHOULD KNOW Director of Dramaturgy and Education.................. Education Associate……………………………… Group Sales Coordinator........................................ House Manager...................................................... Producing Director................................................. Artistic Director.....................................................
Richard Keller Pat Pederson Tracey White Lisa Kehoe James Clark Robert Moss
IMPORTANT NUMBERS Syracuse Stage Administration Offices: 315/443-4008 Education Department: 315/443-1150 Group Sales: 315/443-9844 3
The New York State Standards of Learning The following chart is designed to assist you in using the activities and questions in this guide to address the New York State Learning Standards for the Arts in the areas of Theatre, English Language Arts, and Career Development and Occupational Skills in the areas of Universal Skills. As you are the experts at adapting these activities to meet the needs of your specific classroom, this grid is only meant as an easy reference and does not intend to suggest that these are the only learning standards to which these activities apply, nor is every activity and question included on the grid. We hope this is helpful, and if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, you should feel free to call us at (315) 443-1150.
New Orleans, old and ever new
AUDIENCE ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITY As audience members, your students have a distinct role and responsibility. The success of any performance depends on the actors on the stage as well as the people in the seats. Because, for many students, this is their first exposure to a live theatre production, they might not realize that the behaviors used in the movie theaters or when watching a video or television are not always appropriate in this setting. We encourage you to spend time discussing the subject with your students and have included two pages to assist you. The first contains some discussion questions to use in classroom (with some suggested answers in italics) while the second is a ONE MINUTE ETIQUETTE REMINDER to read on the bus. [ 1 ] What are some of the differences between a live theatre production and a movie? * A movie can be filmed in any order of scenes and can be redone as many times as needed to get a “good scene.” Once a scene is done to the director’s satisfaction, it is “in the can” and will not be done again. Live theatre must be done in sequence as written, continues regardless of mistakes and problems, and is done in its entirety each performance. * The audience’s noise level, activity level, and attention level do not affect the movie actor’s performance. All of these things are heard and noticed by the actors of a live performance and have an immediate effect on the performance. This might be a positive or negative effect-- if the audience laughs at funny lines or is leaning forward in anticipation of the action, this encourages the actors to give an energetic performance; if the audience does not laugh at appropriate times or is restless during the performance, the actors often find it difficult to give their best performance. * The special effects in a movie can be generated by computers or camera angles while the special effects in the theatre rely on the audience’s imagination to help create them. * Movies provide realistic images while live theatre provides images of reality.
[ 2 ] What is the best way to approach viewing a live performance of a play? * The audience attending a live performance must walk into the theatre willing to “suspend their disbelief” and use their imagination to provide part of the setting. * Theatre is alive and active in ways that television and movies are not. Look for the passion and emotion behind the actions and the words. * Because each performance is complete and affected by audience response, an audience member will never see a duplication of a performance. Though the meaning is the same, each performance has its own underlying interpretations.
[ 3 ] What is the audience’s role during a live performance? How do you think audience behavior can affect an actor’s performance? The audience’s role is to form a connection with the actors and to appropriately respond to the performance. This response may be laughter, gasps, applause, or quiet attention as well as restlessness or silence. Noises such as paper rattling from unwrapping food, watch alarms, cell phone ringing, or talking can distract the actors and cause a disruption of the energy flow which in turn weakens the performance. It also keeps those around you from maintaining their connection with the actors.
ONE MINUTE ETIQUETTE REMINDER Please read to students on the bus prior to entering the theatre.
Stay in the group to be seated. Your school or class will be called and seated at the same time. Sit in the seat to which you are assigned. If you move or refuse to take a particular seat, you will be sitting in someone elseâ€™s place and it will cause a delay in seating other classes. No food, drink, gum-chewing, headsets, or backpacks in the theatre. Please leave lunches and snacks on the bus. NO TALKING OR GETTING UP DURING THE SHOW. This includes whispering. Every performance of a play is a unique experience, created by particular actors with a particular audience. The audience is a very important part of the play. The experience of seeing live theatre is very different from seeing TV or a movie where nothing the audience can do will change the show. Stage actors are very much aware of the reactions of the audience, and indeed it is the audience-- you-- that helps the actors toward a great performance. An audience may applaud, laugh, cry and respond in any way that makes it part of the on-stage action. Please avoid talk or inappropriate actions that distract attention from the stage. Remember, the actors can see and hear you. Please use the restrooms before the show or at intermission only. If you have any problems or questions, please ask the ushers for help. Enjoy yourself!
TECHNICAL ELEMENTS A performance does not just happen; it is the product of a great deal of teamwork. The technical elements of a production support the characters the actors create to present the audience with the illusionary reality that is theatre. Sets, lights, sound, props, and costumes create the environment in which the play lives. These elements combine with the audience’s imagination to create the special effects and illusions. The following discussion questions are intended to help students focus on each of these technical elements and analyze its part in a production. SECTION A: SETS Before the performance began, what were your first impressions of the set design? How did it make you feel? Which of your senses were involved by the set design? What was the physicality of the stage? Did the set incorporate any theatrical devices such as a rake, a thrust, ramps or stairs, voms or the pit? What type of action did you expect? As the performance progressed, how did the set change from scene to scene or did it remain one setting for the entire play? Were the changes of location made by actual set alterations or by the actors use of the set? How was the stage used? Did the action take place across the whole stage or was it contained in small areas? What could you tell about each environment and time of the used area? Was movement between areas fluid or rigid? Did the actors move around the set in purposeful motion or did action flow from one area to another? What materials and color schemes were used for walls, the deck (stage floor), set pieces? Did the materials and colors fit the time and location of the play? Were you able to concentrate on the action and characters or did the elements of the set attract your attention? After viewing the performance, do you feel the set design supported the play? Did it make sense to you? Would you have done anything differently? SECTION B: COSTUMES What could you tell about each of the characters based on his or her appearance before any action took place? Did the costumes influence your expectations or opinion of each character? Did the costumes put you in the correct time period? Did the style of the costumes go with the personality of the character and the mood of the play? How did the colors and materials used compliment or contrast with the colors and materials of the set? Did the colors and materials group the characters in any way? Were there any parts of the costumes you found distracting or out of place? SECTION C: LIGHTING What clues did the lighting give you about the feel or emotional tone of the play? Was the lighting from an identifiable source or did it blend into the setting? Was the lighting supportive to the action of the performance or distracting? Could you identify the colors that were used? Why do you think these particular shades were chosen? Did any one character have a particular shade or degree of lighting? SECTION D: SOUND 18
What types of sounds were used? Were the sounds environmental noise or in response to specific character actions? (for example: crickets chirping in the summer or a gunshot) Did the sounds fit the situation or distract you from the performance? Were the sounds correct for time period and location? SECTION E: PROPS Were the props appropriate to the time period and setting? Did the characters have all the props they needed for the scenes? Did they have too many props? SECTION F: GENERAL What aspect of the performance impacted you the most? Was this aspect more content or physical? Did the technical elements of the performance enhance or detract from your enjoyment of the play? Would you have changed anything about this production? How would you have changed it?
The following is taken from a chapter in Katherine Anne Ommanney’s Book, The Stage and the School. Though her book was written in 1939, the information she imparts is still valid today. The questions that follow are designed to help students focus on the areas she discusses. No matter what degree of mechanical perfection the theatres of the screen and air may obtain, they can never take the place of the legitimate stage because they can never create that intangible magnetic quality which passes from actor to audience. To appreciate fully any type of drama and judge it fairly, you must consider the play itself, the interpretation by the actors, its staging by the director, and its reception by the audience. Your judgment is naturally colored by your personal preferences, immediate state of mind, social background, and technical theatrical knowledge. Often the company you are in can make or break the joy of a performance. There are four considerations to be kept in mind as you judge the play-- the type, the theme, the plot, and dialogue and characterization: [a] The Type-- Naturally the type of play and its fundamental purpose must color your attitude toward it-- a frothy social satire cannot be judged by the same standards as a romantic drama in blank verse, though both may be worthy of discriminating analysis. [b] The Theme-- If you are to be an intelligent playgoer, the theme of the play will receive your first consideration. It is the theme about which the keen discussion of successful “first nights” of new plays usually centers. It is their themes which hold the attention of the theatrical world on dramatists of the first rank. Determine for yourself what you consider to be the theme of the play, and be prepared to justify your belief by adequate reasons. You might follow Goethe’s example and ask: What did the author try to do? Did he or she do it? Was it worth doing? [c] The Plot-- When you go to a play, you are naturally more interested in the plot than in anything else. If the play is any good at all, you will be asking yourself, “What is going to happen next?” most of the time, and be really eager for each act. At the same time, you should
consider whether the events are plausible and whether the people and places are presented convincingly. [d] Dialogue and Characterization-- The playwrightâ€™s style is perhaps the last element to notice, for you will be so interested in the play that the author and the style are of secondary interest. However, it is the dialogue through which the plot is developed and the characters portrayed, and professional critics are more interested in the lines than in anything else. The characterization, of course, gives the actors a chance to interpret the play correctly, and you will often find that you have forgotten who is playing the parts in your interest in watching the characters in the play meet and solve their problems. They should express themselves so well through their words and actions that you should not be conscious of either the author or the actors. The people themselves should be very real to you, and you should feel that you are meeting new acquaintances and accepting or rejecting them as the play progresses. Part of the fun of going to a play comes during the intermissions when you can discuss these new-made friends and speculate upon their ultimate actions. It is during the intermissions that you can take time to consider the playwright and the skill with which he or she has given the actors worthwhile lines to say and interesting things to do. Judging the Acting-- It is the acting of the play which arouses the keenest response from the onlookers. The just appraisal of the work of the artists is to be expected as a result of any theatrical training. If actors create living people for us, losing themselves in the artistry of assuming other individualities by utilizing all that is best in their own physical and spiritual equipment, you should appreciate their ability and applaud their success. The star system has led many people to either condemn the work of an actor because of stupid prejudice, or to acclaim wildly any performance of a favorite star, no matter how good or bad the interpretation of a particular role may be. No greater opportunity for helping to create a finer American theatre is available to students than their refusal to let press-agent glorification or scandalous notoriety in place of artistic and sincere interpretation on the part of the actors they acclaim. The Direction-- The most important factor in the ultimate success or failure of a play is the director, and they are the last people to receive their deserved praise or blame from the public. They are personally responsible for every phase of the production: the adaptation of the play, the casting of the parts, the interpretation of the characters, the effectiveness of the staging, the length of the rehearsal period, and the total effect of the production. You will get real enjoyment from noting how directors have developed contrast in casting, costuming and interpretation, how they have worked out interesting stage pictures and emphasized their center of interest, and how they have created the proper atmosphere to bring out the authorâ€™s meaning with all their tools-actors, lights, setting, and costumes.
The following questions from Katherine Ommanney’s book, The Stage and the School, may help you to view shows intelligently, but don’t let them spoil your enjoyment of the theatre or turn you into a commentator during the performance! Real enthusiasts of the theatre free their imaginations and emotions while seeing a play or a picture, while using their intelligence and discrimination to heighten their appreciation of this great art.
Section A: Theme 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Is the fundamental idea of the play true or false in its concept of life? Is the theme warped by a distorted or limited life experience on the part of the author? Are we better or worse for having seen the play? Is the theme consistent with the setting, plot and characters presented in the play? Do you agree with the author’s philosophy? In your opinion, should the general public be encouraged to see the play?
Section B: Plot 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Is it a clear-cut sequence of events? Does it rise to a gripping climax? Are we held in suspense until the end? Are we as emotionally stirred as the author apparently wants us to be? Are you satisfied as to the final outcome? Are you chiefly interested in the events, the people, or the place?
Section C: Characterization 1. Are the characters true to life? 2. Are they consistent throughout the action of the entire play? 3. Are they in keeping with the social and geographical background of the play? 4. Do they arouse such feelings as sympathy, affection, disgust, admiration, or hatred on the part of the audience? 5. Are their actions in keeping with their motives? 6. Are the situations at the climax and conclusion the result of their inherent natures?
Section D: Style 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
Is the dialogue of a nature so as to retain your interest throughout the play? Is it consistent with the characters and the setting? Is it an end in itself or an adequate means of plot advancement and characterization? Does it make us think about the author or the characters themselves? Do we remember lines after the play because of their pithiness or beauty? Is the use of dialect correct in every detail? Would people of the class represented talk in real life as they do in the play? Is the power of expression worthy of the ideas expressed?
Section E: Acting 1. Is the interpretation of any given role correct from the standpoint of the play itself? 2. Does the actor make his or her role a living individuality? 3. Are they artificial or natural in their technique?
4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.
Are we conscious of their methods of getting effects? Do they grip us emotionally-- that is, do we weep, laugh, suffer, and exult with them? Are their voices pleasing and their presence magnetic? Do they keep in character every moment? Do we think of them as the characters they are depicting or as themselves? Does any actor use the play as a means of self-glorification, or are each of them an intrinsic part of the action at all times? 10. Does each apparently cooperate with the other actors, the director, and the author in interpreting the play by knowing his or her lines, helping to focus attention on the center of interest, and by losing himself or herself in the part?
Section F: Audience Reaction 1. Is the audience attentive or restless during the performance? 2. Is there a definite response of tears, laughter, or applause? 3. Is there an immediate appreciation of clever lines, dramatic situations, and skillful acting? 4. Is the applause spontaneous and whole-hearted, or politely perfunctory? 5. After the performance are people hurrying away, or do they linger to discuss the play? 6. Are they apathetic or animated, bored or buoyant, serious or scoffing? 7. To what types of people does the play seem to appeal?
Tom “Tennessee” Williams Thomas Lanier Williams, the second of his parents’ three children, was born March 26, 1911, at his maternal grandparents’ home in Columbus, Mississippi; while his father was a traveling salesman for the International Shoe Company young Tom, his older sister Rose and their mother lived with Mother’s parents in a number of parsonages (Grandfather was a minister) in both Mississippi and Tennessee. At one such home Tom contracts diphtheria and a kidney infection which leaves him bedridden for some time. Like many other authors, his love of literature and the life of the mind may be traced to this episode. When Tom was eight his father was promoted to sales manager of his company’s St. Louis branch, to which the family moved. Compared to his blissful rural existence with his grandparents Tom recalled his childhood in St. Louis as “miserable and lonely” because the local boys tormented him over his southern accent and interest in writing rather than athletics. His father took notice of these traits too and would call his son “Miss Nancy.” Williams occasionally wrote pieces for his schools’ newspapers, and in 1927 won third prize for an essay he submitted to the national magazine Smart Set; the following year his short story “The Vengeance of Nitocris” appeared in the sci/fi magazine Weird Tales. He also saw his first Broadway production in 1928 (the legendary musical Show Boat) and toured Europe with his grandfather and a party of people. In 1929 Williams entered the University of Missouri but was forced to leave at the end of his junior year for having failed ROTC. Rather than send Tom to college again (it was 1932) his father found him a job at his company’s warehouse, where he worked for three years until he was diagnosed with a heart condition that necessitated his recovery with his grandparents near Memphis, Tennessee (which nickname he soon adopted). While recuperating Williams submitted his play Cairo! Shanghai! Bombay! to a Memphis theatre group, which experience led to his drama studies at Washington University (St. Louis) beginning in 1936. The local Mummers subsequently produced his plays Candles in the Sun and The Fugitive Kind, which draws notice to his talent. Transferring to the University of Iowa he enrolls in playwrighting classes, emerging with a BA in English in August 1938. Williams, 1946
Thereafter Williams begins his life-long travels around the US, stopping in different cities like New Orleans for a few months at a time, subsisting on low-paying jobs, loans from friends, his mother and grandmother and advances from his literary agent Audrey Wood. Right, Tom as one of Falstaff’s soldiers, Henry VI, Part I, University of Iowa, 1938
In 1939 the New York-based Theatre Guild awarded him $100 for several oneacts submitted to their contest; he then received a Rockefeller grant that enabled him to move to New York City where he supported himself through a series of odd jobs (he also received an award from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts). Williams sits in on an advanced playwrighting seminar at the New School for Social Research there, which institution stages his Long Goodbye in 1940 and This Property is Condemned in 1942, bringing him to the attention of New York critics. Williams’ Battle of Angels, produced by the Theatre Guild in 1940, unfortunately closed during tryouts in Boston. In January 1943, as Williams labored to have his collaborative play You Touched Me! produced, his sister Rose, who had been institutionalized as per their mother six years previously, underwent a prefrontal lobotomy in an effort to regulate her behavior. As early as 1932 Rose had shocked people, her mother in particular, by speaking to young men about sexual interludes; Mrs. Williams was repressed enough to first send Rose to a mental hospital where she underwent insulin shock therapy to no avail before agreeing to try the experimental surgical procedure. Because of the close relationship between Rose and Tennessee their mother did not tell her son about the operation until it was completed, for which he never really forgave her. Later in 1943, from May to November, Williams worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter though none of his writing was produced. He did, however, complete a screenplay titled The Gentleman Caller, which became The Glass Menagerie, his second professionally produced play. It earned the 1945 New York Drama Critics’ Circle prize for best play, in addition to other local awards. During Menagerie’s run Williams began work on a play variously entitled The Poker Night and Blanche’s Chair in the Moon, which was produced in 1947 as A Streetcar Named Desire. The play earned that year’s Pulitzer Prize as well as the New York Critics’ Circle award, and ran for 885 performances, the longest Broadway run of any of his plays. In 1948, the year his battling parents finally separated, Williams began a long-term relationship with Frank Merlo that only ended with Merlo’s death from cancer. Frank Merlo and Tennessee, 1950 Thereafter Williams’ full-length plays Summer and Smoke (revised as Eccentricities of a Nightingale), The Rose Tattoo, Camino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (which won the 1955 Pulitzer Prize), Orpheus Descending (the revised Battle of Angels), Sweet Bird of Youth, Period of Adjustment (his only comedy) and The Night of the Iguana bring his view and his characters to Broadway and the world; his novel The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone is filmed, as is The Glass Menagerie, Streetcar, The Rose Tattoo, Baby Doll, Cat, and several other plays. Williams continued to write one-act plays, short stories, essays and poems throughout his career. Tennessee was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1952 (they granted him their Gold Medal for Drama in 1969) and the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1962. He was presented with the President’s Medal of Freedom for a lifetime of achievements in 1980, and the prestigious Common Wealth Award in 1981; Harvard conferred an honorary doctorate on him in 1982. Tennessee Williams died in 1983 and was buried in St. Louis. 24
Williams’ Work 1940 1944 1945 1945 1947 1948 1951 1953 1955 1957 1958 1961 1962 1966 1967 1969 1971 1972 1973 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982
Battle of Angels Stairs to the Roof; The Glass Menagerie: NY Drama Critics' Circle Award You Touched Me (Co-authored with Donald Windham) "This Property is Condemned"; Portrait of a Madonna Summer and Smoke (Later retitled Eccentricities of a Nightingale); A Streetcar Named Desire: NY Drama Critics' Circle Award, Pulitzer Prize American Blues: Five Short Plays The Rose Tattoo: Tony Award: Best Play Camino Real; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: NY Drama Critics' Circle Award; Pulitzer Prize; "27 Wagons Full of Cotton"; Player of a Summer Game Orpheus Descending (Revision of Battle of Angels) Garden District (incl. Something Unspoken and Suddenly Last Summer); Talk to Me Like the Rain Sweet Bird of Youth; I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phoenix; Period of Adjustment The Night of the Iguana: NY Drama Critics' Circle Award The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore Slapstick Tragedy (incl. The Mutilated and Gnadiges Fraulein) The Two Characters Play (later revised as Outcry); The Seven Descents of Myrtle In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel; Dragon Country: A Book of Plays "I Can't Imagine Tomorrow" and "Confessional" Small Craft Warnings A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot The Red Devil Battery Sign; The Putrification This Is (An Entertainment) Vieux Carré Creve Coeur (revised as A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur) Kirche, Kuchen Und Kinder Clothes for a Summer Hotel; Will Mr. Meriwether Return from Memphis?; Williams' name was added to the Theatre Hall of Fame. Something Cloudy, Something Clear A House Not Meant to Stand
Williams also wrote numerous screenplays, short stories, essays, a novel and a memoir. Many of his letters have also been published. Following is a poem from Williamsâ€™ collection In the Winter of Cities that truly expresses the loneliness of the urban dweller. Those Who Ignore the Appropriate Time of Their Going Those who ignore the appropriate time of their going Are the most valiant explorers, Going into a country that no one is meant to go into, The time coming after that isnâ€™t meant to come after. In the winter of cities The chalk-drawn sign of the fish, jaws agape on huge Tongueless outcry Of suffocation Burns over their white iron beds and gradually brightens, Casting violent light on them. . . . The sister of Rimbaud, Like a white bird, snow-blinded, wanders among the multitude Of the unsleeping Bearing a warm teacup of a brew from the seeds of the poppy, Rushes, breathless, and kneels Once more to implore them to accept absolution and to be Sweetly enfolded In the blue robe of Mary. . . . Often, toward morning, Their respiration quickens. Violets are exchanged Between their unlidded eyes and the folds of their disordered Bedclothes. Drawn window blinds Release to the late-watching street A luster softer than the pearls of a mother . . .
Setting: The scene is the interior and exterior of the two-room Kowalski apartment in New Orleans’ French quarter. The action of the play takes place in the spring, summer and early fall one year in the late 1940s. Synopsis: When Blanche DuBois visits her younger married sister Stella following the loss of their ancestral home, Blanche’s frail mental health fails under husband Stanley’s unremitting scrutiny. Characters in A Streetcar Named Desire A neighbor who shares a laugh with Eunice over Stanley and Stella and lets Stella know that Blanche has arrived is one of the first people we see. Eunice Hubbell – Stanley and Stella’s upstairs neighbor, to whom Stella turns for comfort when Stanley mistreats her. She is married to Steve Hubbell (see below). Stanley Kowalski – a brash young man in his twenties who earns his living as a traveling salesman. He is prone to react physically when angered. He and Stella have not been married long, and so are quite comfortable in their 2-room apartment. Stella Kowalski – Blanche’s younger sister, who left their home, Belle Rive, some time ago. She likes Stanley’s energy and strength, but not the violence. She stands up to him in her way, but has not told him that Blanche is coming to visit. Steve Hubbell – a poker-night and bowling buddy of Stanley’s who lives upstairs from the Kowalskis with his wife Eunice. Harold (Mitch) Mitchell – a bachelor poker-night buddy of Stanley’s who lives with his aged mother. He is fascinated by Blanche and wants to protect her. Blanche DuBois – Stella’s older sister, who lived at Belle Reve as the elderly relatives passed away, holding onto their ancestral home until she could no long support it on her teacher’s salary. She tells Stella that she just needs a bit of rest from all she’s been through but there is an air about her that suggests she may be looking for a more permanent haven. Pablo Gonzales – a poker-night buddy of Stanley’s. The Newsboy – a teenage boy collecting for the local paper. Something in his face or voice so reminds Blanche of a former beau from her Belle Rive days that she returns to that time and flirts with him. A doctor and nurse from the sanitarium.
Vocabulary In part excerpted from Geva Theatre’s Streetcar study guide. Belle Reve – French, beautiful dream. This is the name of Blanche and Stella’s family home in Laurel, Mississippi. Elysian Fields - The name of the apartment building the Kowalskis live in. In Greek mythology this was where the blessed spent eternity. The phrase has come to mean a place or condition of ideal happiness. gaudy - tasteless and showy. heterogeneous – a whole consisting of unlike parts, for example, a community of people from different backgrounds. implicit - implied. incongruous - out of place. the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir – a weir is a barrier placed in or across a stream of river to either create a pool or otherwise divert the stream’s flow; to redirect the water (a tarn—see the end of the quote—is a small lake). Blanche’s reference is a quote of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, “Ulalame,” in which a young man is led to his lover’s tomb on the year anniversary of her death by a deceptively bright star. The last cheery little stanza is: Then my heart is grew ashen and sober As the leaves that were crispéd and sere— As the leaves that were withering and sere, And I cried—“It was surely October On this very night of last year That I journeyed—I journeyed down here— That I brought a dread burden down here— On this night of all nights in the year, Ah, what demon has tempted me here? Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber— This misty mid region of Weir— Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber, This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.” indulgence - something granted as a favor or privilege. por nada – Spanish: Don’t mention it, it was nothing. Napoleonic Code – a civil code of law carried over into Louisiana from its French origins. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica Online, “the Napoleonic Civil Code, an ambitious work of legal codification, . . . consolidated certain basic principles established in 1789: civil equality and equality before the law; the abolition of feudalism in favor of modern contractual forms of property; and the secularization of civil relations. Codification also made it easier to 28
export those principles beyond the borders of France. In the area of family relations, however, the Napoleonic Code was less a codification of revolutionary innovations than a reaction against them. By reverting to patriarchal standards that strengthened the prerogatives of the husband and father, it wiped out important gains that women had made during the Revolution. The code's spirit on this subject was summed up in its statement that ‘a husband owes protection to his wife; a wife owes obedience to her husband.’ Wives were barred from signing contracts without their husbands' consent, and a wife's portion of the family's community property fell completely under her husband's control during his lifetime. . . Cut the rebop – Stanley is telling Blanche to stop buttering him up and say what she really thinks about him (during their scene together before the poker game). fornication - sex between a man and woman not married to each other. Blanche simply means that the men in her family practically gave away their property over foolish whims (which may have included payments to mistresses but may have been gambling debts, for example.). improvident - wasteful. Run to the drugstore and get me a lemon Coke – At this time many drugstores featured soda fountains from which you could get milk shakes and other “fountain” drinks, including flavored sodas; that’s where cherry Coke came from, before it was bottled. Lemon and vanilla Coke were other popular flavors (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it). preen - adorn oneself carefully; primp. smoldering - to exist in a suppressed state that suggests emotional heat. toilette – French: dressing or grooming. sugar-tit – a treat for a small child. Stanley is calling Mitch a baby, a mama’s boy. kibitz – Yiddish: to offer unasked for advice to others, especially card players. Luckies – Lucky Strikes, a popular brand of cigarette in the Forties and Fifties. Mrs. Browning – Elizabeth Barrett Browning, British 19th century poet who had to overcome her father’s disapproval to marry Robert Browning, an equally famous poet. Mitch owns a silver cigarette case given to him by a former lover. The inscription reads: “And if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.” This quote, as Blanche recalls, comes from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnet 43”: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of every day's Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. 29
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death. extraction - descent; lineage. Huguenots - French Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries. Blanche and Stella’s Huguenot forebears fled Catholic France to escape persecuted there in the 17th century. gallantry – formal courtesies a man pays a woman. superficial - concerned with only what is apparent or obvious; not a deep thinker. Xavier Cugat – Latin American musician known as “King of the Rumba” (a rhythmical dance that originated in Cuba) who introduced Latin American rhythms into the US. whelp – a puppy or other young, untrained animal. Eunice tells Stanley he has no manners. It’s always a powderkeg – a barrel of gunpowder, therefore, a very combustible object. Stella is explaining to Blanche that tempers can flare during a poker game as money changes hands and alcohol is consumed (especially when Stanley is playing, one would guess). Is this some Chinese philosophy you’ve cultivated – Blanche wonders if Stella has developed an esoteric acceptance of Stanley’s behavior enabling her to rise above it. Bromo – Bromo seltzer was a popular hangover/upset stomach remedy which basically worked like Alka-Seltzer. bestial – Blanche’s opinion of Stanley, that he is like a beast or wild animal. anthropological studies – scientific explorations of mankind’s origins, especially, in this case, the search for our common humanoid ancestor. I wouldn’t mind if you’d stay down at the Four Deuces . . . but you go up! – Eunice believes that the rooms above the Four Deuces bar are either rooms to rent by the hour or that they are hooker’s apartments, and it upsets her that Steve is spending time in them (as she assumes). coquettish - flirtatious. morbid - characterized by concern with unwholesome matters such as death. 30
“From the land of the sky-blue water/they brought a captive maid!” – We hear Blanche singing this pseudo-Native American song as she prepares for her big date with Mitch. While it was originally set to music c. 1900 it was later recorded by such singers as Mildred Bailey and the Andrews Sisters, among others. Blanche is probably not simply singing a popular song, since she has already admitted to Stella that she feels trapped, at the end of her rope. The lyrics in their entirety are: “From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water” Text by Nelle Richmond Eberhart (1871-1944) Set by Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946), published 1909, op. 45, from Cadman’s Four American Indian Songs no. 1. From the Land of the Sky-blue Water, They brought a captive maid; And her eyes they are lit with lightnings, Her heart is not afraid! But I steal to her lodge at dawning, I woo her with my flute; She is sick for the Sky-blue Water, The captive maid is mute.
“putting out” – an old expression meaning that a girl or woman would have sex with a man she was not married to. The Arabian Nights – Blanche is referring to the Middle Eastern fables told by Scheherezade; she means that the paper carrier has an exotic, romantic look to him. My Rosenkavalier – Blanche romanticizes Mitch by casting him as the hero of Strauss’ waltz opera of the same name, which character is an archetypal chivalrous object of desire of several of the women. delusion – a false belief. Pleiades - cluster of seven stars (also known as the Seven Sisters, esp. among Native Americans) in the constellation Taurus historically thought to symbolically represent “sweet influences.” joie de vivre – French: literally, joy of life; figuratively, to enjoy life, to live in a spirited way. Bohemian – not the ancient Eastern European province but referring to a “loose” lifestyle usually attributed to artists and freethinkers, in which people freely put out, for example. Je suis la Dame aux Camelias! Vous etes—Armand! – Blanche refers to Camille, the popular 19th century French melodrama of a high-class prostitute and her lover Armand, who remains true to her despite the fact that his family forbids the relationship. She ultimately dies of tuberculosis.
Voulez-voux couches avec moi ce soir? Voux ne comprenez pas? Ah! Quel dommage! – In this remarkable passage Blanche asks an uncomprehending Mitch if he’d like to go to bed with her (shades of Patti LaBelle), whether he understands her or not (he does not) and then sighs, “What a shame!” She is certainly at the end of her rope psychologically and financially, and has probably had too much to drink, allowing her desperation to show through albeit in a foreign language. alpaca – the South American llama’s wool coat was very prized in the 1950s, so Mitch is wearing a fine jacket. Varsouviana – a waltz playing in the background at the casino where Blanche’s homosexual husband committed suicide after she admitted to him that she had seen him with his lover. This music haunts Blanche during the play. contemptible - despicable; worthy of hate. Huey (“the Kingfish”) Long – Louisiana senator and governor whose motto, “Every man a king,” was the emblem of his wealth distribution program, Share Our Wealth, which many scholars view as the impetus behind FDR’s New Deal programs (Social Security, etc.). As Governor Long (1928-1930), a position he achieved through intense personal lobbying among the people rather than the politicians, he made good on his election promises to provide free books to all schoolchildren, improved schools, modern roads, highways, and bridges, and public assistance for farmers; he instituted old-age pensions, exempted modest home from property taxes and abolished the poll tax. Long saw to it that the poor received free medical care, made Louisiana State University a first rate school and established it’s medical center in New Orleans. He also loaded state and parish-level government with enough of his followers such that Long retained control of the state after he moved on to the US Senate in 1930. His total control of Louisiana was not so new in the state, but his “personal crudeness, his vulgarity, . . . seemed most to enrage his opponents. . . . Louisiana had known highhanded governors before, but Huey was the first who was ‘common,’” according to the editors of Louisiana: A History. Perhaps more importantly, however, Huey Long takes the oath of office was his obvious consolidation of power, coming as it did just as Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler gained complete control of their countries, which finally provoked the son-in-law of a political opponent to assassinate Long in Baton Rouge in September 1935. Still, the power and good works associated with Long’s name and political machine was such that his brother Earl became Louisiana’s governor in 1948. (see also New Orleans Politics, below) Are you boxed out of your mind? – Mitch isn’t sure if Blanche is drunk or nuts. Flores para los muertos – Spanish: Flowers for the dead. The woman is selling flowers for people to place on their loved ones’ graves, but confronting her is too much for 32
Blanche, caught up as she is in the memory of her dead husband, and facing her own future without Mitch or anyone to protect her from the truth. legacies - something handed down from an ancestor or past history. Blanche’s legacy is “dying old women remembering their dead men.” boucle – French; a type of yarn that, when woven, creates a rough-textured cloth. Background to Williams, Streetcar and New Orleans From: Tom: the Unknown Tennessee Williams Lyle Leverich’s in-depth study of Williams’ early life and career (up to and including the opening of The Glass Menagerie) provides a wealth of information about his formative years as well as incidents, events and writers that profoundly affected William’s subsequent writing. Like a careful author, the fact that Williams’ admitted (in his famous Playboy interview) that “I can identify completely with Blanche . . . we are both hysterics” in no way precluded his statement to his agent Audrey Wood that “I have a Stanley side in me, too.” In fact, Williams lived in New Orleans’ French Quarter several times in his life, and the first two stints, in 1939 and 1941, impressed him a great deal, fueling not only Streetcar but the later play Vieux Carré as well as poems and short stories. Because so much of Streetcar’s atmosphere depends on the emotional and psychological states of its characters, I feel we can indulge ourselves in Thomas Lanier Williams’ early years. When we first meet Blanche she has arrived unexpectedly in New Orleans from her hometown of Laurel, Mississippi; when it becomes clear to her that her brother-inlaw’s home cannot be hers, she reveals to her sister Stella that, as she had “fled” to Miami to seek a protector she is just as ready to flee to Dallas (and former beau Shep Huntleigh). This is a pattern Tom, as he was known before the advent of his career, adopted soon after graduating college, though Leverich discerns an antecedent from Williams’ high school years: [In 1928, at age 17, Tom accompanied his Grandfather Dakin and a small party on a tour of Europe during which he] “experienced . . . ‘the most dreadful, the most nearly psychotic crisis’ of his early life. In [his] Memoirs he wrote: ‘Abruptly, it occurred to me that the process of thought was a terrifyingly complex mystery of human life. . . . I felt myself walking faster and faster as if trying to outpace this idea. It was already turning into a phobia. As I walked faster I began to sweat and my heart began to accelerate, and by the time I reached the Hotel Rochambeau, where our party was staying, I was a trembling, sweat-drenched wreck of a boy.’. . . For Tom, the experience of thinking about thought itself had an effect similar to that of seeing the myriad reflections of himself in a hall of mirrors.” Thankfully, while this intense fear persisted briefly, it abated almost as suddenly as it had occurred, but the fact that Tom continued to travel as his fear waxed and waned seems to have informed a wanderlust that is the hallmark of the adult Tennessee, according to Leverich: “Following the trip to Europe, a restlessness was stirring in Tom, a passion, the need to change scenes, to move on. . . . Just moving to new environs on impulse, 33
often for no particular reason, and as quickly leaving them, was to become an obsessive pattern in his life as a writer, his only way to defuse the unnamable terrors that rose out of too closely examining not only the processes of thought but of life itself. . . .” Another episode in Tennessee’s life, his having returned to his parents house after graduating college with no job prospects, very much echoes Blanche’s frenzied attempts to reach her beau Shep by Western Union in this journal entry: “Dad started griping about my lack of job, Etc.—Surely I won’t stay on here when I’m regarded as such a parasite. Now is the time to make a break—get away—away. I have pinned pictures of wild birds on my lavatory screen–Significant—I’m desperately anxious to escape. But where and how?—No money—Grandmother [Dakin] & Mother the only possible source. What a terrible trap to be caught in!—But there must be some way out and I shall find it.” Most importantly, perhaps, were Tom’s first sojourns in New Orleans. This is where I beg my audience’s indulgence, since the following excerpts of Leverich’s book are fairly lengthy, but so much of the atmosphere that is nearly an unnamed character in Streetcar, and Williams’ reactions to the city itself, is so well described in them that I feel they are most informative. All contained within quotes is Leverich; my comments appear within brackets. “The day after Christmas , Tom started on a journey that would last the rest of his life. . . . He had become a wayfarer. In the last entry he made in his journal before leaving St. Louis, he said that the move to New Orleans seemed his last or only hope. ‘Maybe a new scene will revive me.’ Dec. 28, 1938-Wed. How strange! Immediately after the above entry I find my self reporting that here I actually am in a completely new scene— New Orleans—the Vieux Carré. Preposterous? Well, rather! Somehow or other things do manage to happen in my life. . . . I am delighted, in fact enchanted with this glamorous, fabulous old town. I've been here about 3 hours but have already wandered about the Vieux Carré and noted many exciting possibilities. Here surely is the place I was made for if any place on this funny old world. . . . Tomorrow I will go out first thing to locate a cheap furnished room in the artists' section . . . En Avant! “. . . . His luggage consisted of a suitcase, a portable typewriter, and a windup phonograph. Packed in his suitcase was his copy of Hart Crane, which he would carry for years to come. Another item was the bound ledger that had become his journal and that, despite his tendency to misplace everything else in his life, went everywhere with him. . . “The next day Tom went into the French Quarter and found a small hotel room that would cost him four dollars a week. He immediately dispatched a postcard depicting the Vieux Carré to his grandparents, and to his mother he wrote, ‘This is most fascinating place I've ever been. Arrived late last night and spent morning finding room—very scarce on account of Sugar Bowl game. I am situated for a week at 431 Royal Street. Letter soon.’ . . . The reality of life in an unknown city soon set in: Fri. [30th] Judas Priest!—It's no use denying the fact that I am very blue & lonesome—enough so to be really worried about the prospects. . . . Being completely alone for 48 hours, even in the most enchanting of cities, has gotten on my nerves. Something will have to happen to relieve my depression tomorrow or—perhaps all will be lost. Nothing 34
constructive done so far except a brief meeting with Ashton, Director of the WPA Theater, who told me to see a young lady about submitting my scripts—think I'll do that tomorrow. I must do something. Somebody has just moved in the room next door—even a stranger across a wall is comforting to me in this state. “Wayfarer though he might be, Torn was discovering the brutal truth that escape from his father's jailhouse did not in and of itself set him free from the self-imprisonment of his anxieties. . . “Once Tom was living in the French Quarter, it didn't take him long to cast off the garb and other telltale aspects of a tourist: New Year's Day—1939—What a nite! I was introduced to the artistic and Bohemian life of the Quarter with a bang! All very interesting, some utterly appalling. New Orleans and Tennessee Williams had found each other.” . . . [Some years later Tennessee wrote a play titled Vieux Carré, describing the setting thusly:] "TIME: The period between winter 1938 and spring 1939. “PLACE: A rooming house, No. 722 Toulouse Street, in the French Quarter of. New Orleans.
No. 722 Toulouse Street
“THE SETTING OF THE PLAY: The stage seems bare. . . . In the barrenness there should be a poetic evocation of all the cheap rooming houses of the world. This one is in the Vieux Carré of New Orleans, where it remains standing at 722 Toulouse Street, now converted to an art gallery. I will describe the building as it was when I rented an attic room in the late Thirties, not as it will be designed or realized for the stage. “It is a three-story building. There are a pair of alcoves facing Toulouse Street. These alcove cubicles are separated by plywood, which provides a minimal separation (spatially) between the writer (myself those many years ago) and an older painter, a terribly wasted man, dying of tuberculosis, but fiercely denying this circumstance to himself. “A curved staircase ascends from the rear of a dark narrow passageway from the street entrance to the kitchen area. From there it ascends to the third floor, or gabled attic with its mansard roof. . . . “In New Orleans, and most particularly in the Vieux Carré, the young Tennessee Williams first became aware of a dark side of life that seemed to drift timelessly, exhibiting a laissez-faire attitude that characterized the morés and amorality of the most colorful segment of humanity he had ever encountered. From the first, he became deeply attracted to the strangely sovereign life of the Old Quarter, existing apart from the rest of New Orleans: a cloistered heart of the city. . . 35
“By the unseasonably warm month of January 1939, the Vieux Carré had become, as it remains, an asylum for every conceivable form of human, poor and rich, maverick and ne'er-do-well, the dispossessed and the misbegotten intermingling and cohabiting with casual industry and insouciant air, each with his own arcane system for survival. Below sea level, suffocatingly humid in summer and penetratingly cold in winter, the city has an atmosphere that is languid, and the sky seems so low that its drifting clouds often appear to be within reach. The effect is of life compressed and borne in on itself, a characteristic of so many who live in the Quarter and who would enter the plays and stories of Tennessee Williams. “Although on this first visit he stayed only a few weeks, Williams would return year after year to his ‘favorite city of America . . . of all the world, actually.’ He would always maintain, ‘My happiest years were there.' And though he was desperately poor and forced to hock everything he owned except his typewriter to get by—and that, too, on one occasion—his first experiences in New Orleans did not leave him, as in St. Louis, with bitter memories. “Whether the events he related much later in the play Vieux Carré and in the short story ‘Angel in the Alcove’ actually occurred in the time and place he recounted is a matter for speculation. In both the play and the short story, Williams depicts Tom's seduction by a tubercular painter who is vainly denying the encroachment of death and is grasping at life, which is embodied in the ingenuous young writer. When the writer admits having had a previous one-night love affair with a paratrooper, the painter says, ‘Love can happen like that. For one night only.’” . . . [In a letter to his mother dated Jan. 2 he admitted how smitten he had become with New Orleans:] I'm crazy about the city. I walk continually, there is so much to see. The weather is balmy, today like early summer. I have no heat in my room—none is needed. The Quarter is really quainter than anything I've seen abroad—in many homes the original atmosphere is completely preserved. . . . Food is amazingly cheap. I get breakfast at the French market for a dime. Lunch and dinner amount to about fifty cents at a good cafeteria near Canal Street. And the cooking is the best I've encountered away from home. Raw oysters, twenty cents a dozen! Shrimp, crab, lobster and all kinds of fish—I have a passion for seafood which makes their abundance a great JOY. The courtyards are full of palms, vines and flowering poinsettia, many with fountains and wells, and all with grillwork, balconies, and little winding stairs. It is heaven for painters and you see them working everywhere. . . . There is a writer's project here and many of the writers I have met are on it—perhaps there is room for more. . . . “The pace of life in the Quarter—so laid-back that some said it was laid out— often involved a surrender to life for life's sake, and Tom found this unsettling. He had no wish or intention to take his place among the writers of unwritten works in progress. Equally threatening was a hedonism that both shocked and intrigued him . . . At once, an inner and lasting conflict was set up. In time, Tennessee Williams would come to call himself a ‘rebellious Puritan,’ and looking back upon the impact of New Orleans, he would say that there ‘I found the kind of freedom I had always needed. And the shock of it against the Puritanism of my nature has given me a theme, which I have never ceased exploiting.’" 36
“Many subsequent experiences and changes of scene would leave their imprint upon him, but none would make the deep, lasting incursions that those in New Orleans did on the young Tom Williams. A whole montage of disjointed memories would run over and over again through his mind and would infiltrate his writings: the voodoo cult in Congo Square; the shady ladies in Storyville; the Creoles of Color on Rampart; Basin Street and Dixieland jazz; . . . the all-night chicory coffee and hot, freshly baked beignets at Café du Monde; ‘the peculiarly benign morning sunlight . . .’; the sixty-cent lunch at Galatoire's: crawfish bisque, oysters Rockefeller; the seven-cent ride on streetcars named Desire and Cemeteries; the early-morning sound of a horse's hooves clip-clopping along streets like Chartres and Ursulines and along the oak-lined Esplanade; the raunchy Decatur Street bars; everywhere the redolent odors of gumbo, sweet olive trees, and musty courtyards; the mournful sounds of ships' horns at night and of a lone saxophonist leaning against the locked cathedral doors in Jackson Square; the calls of a coal peddler and the lyrical chant of a blackberry woman . . . Black-berries—fresh and fine, I got black-berries, lady. Fresh from de vine, I got black-berries, lady, Three glass fo' a dime, I got black-berries . . . Then there were, as he titled his poem, the ‘Mornings on Bourbon Street’: He thought of the innocent mornings on Bourbon Street, of the sunny courtyard and the iron lion's head on the door. He thought of the quality light could not be expected to have again after rain, the pigeons and drunkards coming together from under the same stone arches; to move again in the sun's faint mumble of benediction with faint surprise. . . . He thought of the rotten-sweet odor the Old Quarter had, so much like a warning of what he would have to learn. He thought of belief and the gradual loss of belief and the piecing together of something like it again. But, oh, how his blood had almost turned in color when once, in response to a sudden call from a window, he stopped on a curbstone and first thought Love. Love. Love. He knew he would say it. But could he believe it again? . . . He thought of his friends. He thought of his lost companions, of all he had touched and all whose touch he had known. 37
In the French Quarter
He wept for remembrance. But when he had finished weeping, he washed his face, he smiled at his face in the mirror, preparing to say to you, whom he was expecting, Love. Love. Love. But could he believe it again? “ . . . Nowhere except in this most foreign of American cities could Tom have found a more darkly sensual environment where night shadows and sounds mingled as if they were issuing from a Dantesque vision of hell [particularly as New Orleans prepared to celebrate Mardi Gras]. And it frightened him: this pull within him, this desire—as he had declared so many times—just to ‘live, live, live!’ . . . “Later in the year, in looking back upon the relatively short time he had spent in New Orleans, Tom appended the thought to a journal entry that it was ‘a crucial time— might easily have ended in some form of disaster.’ He was alluding in particular to a question he had asked himself. ‘Am I all animal, all willful, blind, stupid beast? Is there another part that is not an accomplice in this mad pilgrimage of the flesh?’ He had come as close as he could to expressing the accelerating attraction to members of his own sex. He had seen, if not yet experienced, uninhibited sex. The effect upon him was shock and revulsion and fear of what he might become if he remained much longer in the French Quarter.” . . . [Unfortunately, when Williams did enter into adult relationships, in time he encountered “rough trade” with an individual who expressed himself violently, though not physically so, as Williams recorded in the following journal entry, an experience not unlike Stanley “helping” Blanche unpack:] Jan. 1943. Probably the most shocking experience I’ve ever had with another human being [was] last night when my trade turned "dirt." No physical violence resulted, [but] I was insulted, threatened, bullied and robbed—of about $1.50 and a cigarette lighter. All my papers were rooted through and the pitiless, horrifying intimidation was carried on for about an hour. I was powerless. I could not ask for help. There was only me and him, a big guy. Well, I kept my head and I did not get panicky at any point though I expected certainly to be beaten. I didn't even tremble. I talked gently and reasonably in answer to all the horrible abuse. Somehow the very helplessness and apparent hopelessness of the situation prevented much fright. I stayed in the room while he was threatening and searching, because my Mss. were there and I feared he might try to confiscate or destroy them. In that event, I would have fought, called for help, anything! He finally despaired of finding any portable property of value and left, with the threat that any time he saw me he would kill me. I felt sick and disgusted. I think that is the end of my traffic with such characters. Oh, I want to get away from here and lead a clean, simple, antiseptic life—Taos—the desert and the mts.
Thoughts from Tennessee The following excerpts from Williams’ own writing go some way toward defining some ideas central to Streetcar, such as desire, truth, sin and guilt, as well as clarifying the means Williams used to get his ideas across in that play and nearly everything else he wrote. On desire: Desire is something that is made to occupy a larger space than that which is afforded by the individual being. . . . For the sins of the world are really only its partialities, its incompletions, and these are what sufferings must atone for. A wall that has been omitted from a house because the stones were exhausted, a room in a house left unfurnished because the householder's funds were not sufficient—these sorts of incompletions are usually covered up or glossed over by some kind of makeshift arrangements, devised by a person to cover his or her incompletion. The individual feels a part of him- or herself to be like a missing wall or a room unfurnished and tries as well as s/he can to make up for it. The use of imagination, resorting to dreams or the loftier purpose of art, is a mask one devises to cover this incompletion. . . By surprise is one's desire discovered, and once discovered, the only need is surrender, to take what comes and ask no questions about it. . . . (From his short story "Desire and the Black Masseur") On the truth of character: The truth about human character in a play, as in life, varies with the variance of experience and viewpoint of those that view it. No two members of an audience ever leave a theatre, after viewing a play that deals with any degree of complexity in character, with identical interpretations of the characters dealt with. This is as it should be. I know full well the defenses and rationalizations of beleaguered writers—a defensive species—but I still feel that I deal unsparingly with what I feel it the truth of character. I would never evade it for the sake of evasion because I was in any way reluctant to reveal what I knew of the truth. But ambiguity is sometimes deliberate and for artistically defensible reasons. . . . Some mystery should be left in the revelation of character in a play, just as a great deal of mystery is always left at the revelation of character in life, even in one's own character to himself. This does not absolve the playwright of his duty to observe and probe as clearly and deeply as he legitimately can: but it should steer him away from "pat" conclusions, facile definitions, which make a play just a play, not a snare for the truth of human existence. . . . My characters make my plays. I always start with them, they take spirit and body in my mind, nothing that they say or do is arbitrary or invented. They build the play about them like spiders weaving their web, sea-creatures making their shell. I live with them for a year and a half or two years and I know them far better than I know myself. But still they must have the quality of life which is shadowy. . . . It seems to me that Luigi Pirandello devoted nearly his whole career as a playwright to establishing the point I am making in this argument. That "Truth" has a protean nature, that its face changes in the eyes of each beholder. Another good writer once said: "Truth lies at the bottom of a bottomless well." ("About Evasions," from his collected letters titled Five O'Clock Angel) On the loneliness inherent in human life: [The human condition] is a lonely idea, a lonely condition, so terrifying to think of that we usually don't. And so we talk to each other, write and wire each other, call each other short and long distance across land and 39
sea, clasp hands with each other at meeting and parting, fight each other and even destroy each other because of this always somewhat thwarted effort to break through walls to each other. As a character in a play once said, "We're all of us sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins.” . . . Personal lyricism is the outcry of prisoner to prisoner from the cell in solitary where each is confined for the duration of [his] life. . . . (Preface, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) On dread and the modern writer: . . . An invented adversary might say to me at this point: "I have read some of these books, . . . . I don't know why anybody should want to write about such diseased and perverted and fantastic creatures and try to pass them off as representative members of the human race! . . . But I do have this sense you talk about. . . . this sense of fearfulness or dreadfulness or whatever you want to call it. I read the newspapers and . . . I think that the confusion of the world is awful. I think that cancer is fearful, and I certainly don't look forward to the idea of dying, which I think is dreadful. . . . Isn't that having what you call the Sense of Dreadfulness or something?" My hesitant answer would be—“Yes, and no. Mostly no.” And then I would explain a little further, with my usual awkwardness at exposition: “ . . . The true sense of dread is not a reaction to anything sensible or visible or even, strictly, materially, knowable. But rather it's a kind of spiritual intuition of something almost too incredible and shocking to talk about, which underlies the whole so-called thing. It is the incommunicable something that we shall have to call mystery which is so inspiring of dread among modern artists . . . .” “. . . But you still haven't explained why these writers have to write about crazy people doing terrible things!” . . . “You are objecting to their choice of symbols.” “Symbols, are they?” “Of course. Art is made out of symbols the way your body is made out of vital tissue.” “Then why have they got to use—?” “Symbols of the grotesque and the violent? Because a book is short and a man's life is long.” . . . “You mean it's got to be more concentrated?” “Exactly. The awfulness has to be compressed.” “But can't a writer ever get the same effect without using such God damn awful subjects?” “I believe one writer did. The greatest writer of modern times, James Joyce. He managed to get the whole sense of awfulness without resorting to externals (symbols) that departed on the surface from the ordinary and the familiar. . . . He used a device that is known as the interior monologue which only he and one other great modern writer could employ without being excessively tiresome.” “What other?” “Marcel Proust. But Proust did not ever quite dare to deliver the message of Absolute Dread. . . The atmosphere of his work is rather womb-like. The flight into protection is very apparent.” . . . (His introduction to Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye, 1950) Why he wrote what he did and what he was trying to express Q: Surely you'll admit that there's been a disturbing note of harshness and coldness and violence and anger in your more recent works? 40
A: I think, without planning to do so, I have followed the developing tension and anger and violence of the world and time that I live in through my own steadily increasing tension as a writer and person. . . Q: Do you have any positive message, in your opinion? A: Indeed I do think that I do. . . . The crying, almost screaming, need of a great worldwide human effort to know ourselves and each other a great deal better, well enough to concede that no person has a monopoly on right or virtue any more than any person has a corner on duplicity and evil and so forth. If people, and races and nations, would start with that self-manifest truth, then I think that the world could sidestep the sort of corruption which I have involuntarily chosen as the basic, allegorical theme of my plays as a whole [although, frankly,] I have never written about any kind of vice which I can't observe in myself . . . I don't believe in "original sin." I don't believe in "guilt." I don't believe in villains or heroes—only right or wrong ways that individuals have taken, not by choice but by necessity or by certain still-uncomprehended influences in themselves, their circumstances, and their antecedents. This is so simple I'm ashamed to say it, but I'm sure it's true. In fact, I would bet my life on it! And that's why I don't understand why our propaganda machines are always trying to teach us, to persuade us, to hate and fear other people on the same little world we live in. Why don't we meet these people and get to know them as I try to meet and know people in my plays? [And] I'm inclined to think that most writers, and most other artists, too, are primarily motivated in their desperate vocation by a desire to find and to separate truth from the complex of lies and evasions they live in, and I think that this impulse is what makes their work not so much a profession as a vocation, a true “calling.” This sounds terribly vain and egotistical. I don't want to end on such a note. Then what shall I say? That I know that I am a minor artist who has happened to write one or two major works? I can't even say which they are. It doesn't matter. I have said my say. (From "The World I Live In: Tennessee Williams interviews himself," 1957) On Streetcar and Writing Itself In Williams’ own Where I Live: Selected Essays he recalls that “as a final act of restoration [in the wake of Glass Menagerie’s overwhelming success] I settled for a while at Chapala, Mexico, to work on a play called The Poker Night, which later became A Streetcar Named Desire. It is only in his work that an artist can find reality and satisfaction, for the actual world is less intense than the world of his invention, and consequently his life, without recourse to violent disorder, does not seem very substantial. The right condition for him is that in which his work is not only convenient but unavoidable. . . .”
Harold Clurman on Streetcar From: The Collected Works of Harold Clurman The following remarks were written by Mr. Clurman, a founder of the famous Group Theatre and an agent in establishing so-called “Method” acting in America, on the occasion of Streetcar’s original Broadway production. . . . Blanche DuBois, a woman whose family once possessed property and title to position in the circle of refined Southern respectability, has . . . lost her job [as a high school English teacher] and has come to stay with her younger sister Stella in New Orleans. . . . [Blanche’s] brother-in-law Stanley . . . (and we) discover her “secret”: after an unfortunate marriage at an early age to a boy who turned out to be a homosexual, the boy’s suicide, her family’s loss of all its property, and the death of the last member of the older generation, Blanche has become a notorious person, whose squalid affairs have made it impossible for her to remain in her hometown. She meets a friend of Stanley whom she wants to marry because he is a decent fellow [Mitch], but Stanley, by disclosing the facts of her life to her suitor, wrecks Blanche’s hopes. . . .Tennessee Williams is a poet of frustration, and what [Streetcar] says is that aspiration, sensitivity, departure from the norm are battered, bruised and disgraced in our world today. It would be far truer to think of Blanche DuBois as the potential artist in all of us than as a deteriorated Southern belle. Her amatory adventures, which her brother-in-law . . . regards as the mark of her inferiority, are the unwholesome means she uses to maintain her connection with life, to fight the sense of death which her whole background has created in her. The play's story shows us Blanche's seeking haven in a simple, healthy man [Mitch] and that in this, too, she is defeated because everything in her environment conspires to degrade the meaning of her tragic situation. Her lies are part of her will-tobeauty; her wretched romanticism is a futile reaching toward a fullness of life. . . . Blanche is an almost willing victim of a world that has trapped her and in which she can find "peace" only by accepting the verdict of her unfitness for "normal" life. The play is not specifically written as a symbolic drama or as a tract. What I have said is implicit in all of the play's details. The reason for the play's success even with audiences who fail to understand it is that the characters and the scenes are written with a firm grasp on their naturalistic truth. Yet we shall waste the play and the author's talent if we praise the play's effects and disregard its core. Like most works of art the play's significance cannot be isolated in a single passage. It is clear to the attentive and will elude the hasty. . . . One of the greatest parts ever written for a woman in the American theatre, Blanche DuBois demands the fullness and variety of an orchestra. . . . The part represents the essence of womanly feeling and wounded human sensibility. Blanche lies and pretends, but through it all the actress must make us perceive her truth. She is an aristocrat (regardless of the threadbare myth of Southern gentility); she is an aristocrat in the subtlety and depth of her feeling. She is a poet, even if we are dubious about her understanding of the writers she names; she is superior by the sheer intensity and realization of her experience, even if much of what she does is abject. If she is not these things, she is too much of a fraud to be worthy of the author's concern with her. If the latter is true, then the play would be saying something rather surprising—namely, that frank brutality and naked power are more admirable than the yearning for tenderness and the desire to reach beyond one's personal appetites. [In Blanche’s] appeals to her sister in the name of these values, . . . it is essential to the play that we believe and are touched by what she says, that her emotion convinces us of the 42
soundness of her values. All through the play, indeed, we must be captured by the music of Blanche's martyred soul. Without this there is either a play whose viewpoint we reject or no play at all—only a series of "good scenes," a highly seasoned theatrical dish. . . . What is Stanley Kowalski? He is the embodiment of animal force, of brute life unconcerned and even consciously scornful of every value that does not come within the scope of such life. He resents being called a Polack, and he quotes Huey Long, who assured him that "every man is a king." He screams that he is a hundred percent American, and breaks dishes and mistreats his women to prove it. He is all muscle, lumpish sensuality and crude energy, given support by a society that hardly demands more of him. He is the unwitting antichrist of our time, the little man who will break the back of every effort to create a more comprehensive world in which thought and conscience, a broader humanity are expected to evolve from the old Adam. His mentality provides the soil for fascism, viewed not as a political movement but as a state of being. . .. When Kowalski tells his wife to get rid of Blanche so that things can be as they were the author is suggesting that the untoward presence of a new consciousness in Kowalski’s life—the appeal to forbearance and fineness—is a disturbance and that he longs for a life without any spiritual qualms . . . [Mitch, ] Blanche’s suitor, is a person without sufficient force to transcend the level of his environment. . . . [Stella,] Blanche's sister, has made her peace with Kowalski's “normal life.” Both appear in a sense to stand outside the play’s interpretive problem. They are not struggling with a consciousness of the dilemma that exists in the choice between Kowalski’s world and that of Blanche DuBois. . . . It is a play that ought to arouse in us as much feeling, thought and even controversy as plays on semipolitical themes, for it is a play that speaks of a poet’s reaction to life in our country (not just the South), and what Williams has to say about it is much more far-reaching than what might be enunciated through any slogan. I have heard it said, for example, that Williams portrays "ordinary" people without much sense of their promise and reserves most of his affection for more special people—that minority which Thomas Mann once described as life’s delicate children. I find this view false and misleading, but I would rather hear it expressed than to let the play go by as the best play of the season, something you must see, "great theatre." If the play is great theatre—as I believe—it is because it is instinct with life, a life we share not only on the stage, but in our very homes by night and day. If I have chosen to examine the production with what might seem undue minuteness, it is because I believe that questions of the theatre (and of art) are not simply questions of taste or professional quibbles, but life questions. . .
Symbol and Theatrical Expression of Character in Streetcar From: The Moth and the Lantern [According to Thomas Adler, playwright Arthur Miller has cited Streetcar as an inspiration for his own work on Death of a Salesman in part for] “the words and their liberation, the joy of the writer in writing them, the radiant eloquence of its composition, [that] moved me more than all its pathos.” . . . One of Williams’ chief contributions to the American theatre through Streetcar . . . was an almost entirely new conception of a lyrical drama; fully utilizing the stylistic possibilities of the stage allowed Williams to break away from the language-bound realistic drama of the 19th century that was still holding sway over [the drama of the Forties]. . . . This new type of play would not only admit but insist that the language of drama involve more than just words; it would acknowledge the stage symbols and the scenic images that speak to the audience as powerfully as what issues from the mouths of the characters. . . . Williams (and Miller after him) envisioned a use of theatrical space that would not demand that the spectators deny they are in an auditorium watching a play. Furthermore, the location of the action would not be restricted to any one room, as the dramatist, aided by the designer’s use of painted scrims that could be made transparent through lighting, conceived of a freer handling of space, allowing for simultaneous action in different settings, or for showing both the inside and outside of a room, or many rooms. . . . [As Williams’ Glass Menagerie narrator Tom advised the audience, traditional realistic theatre “gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth,” whereas] Williams’ so-called “theatre of gauze,” which plays unabashedly with the convention of the stage, makes the audience more self-conscious of the playgoing experience, and thus gives “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” The aim is not to distract us from the essential truth of experience but to take us deeper into it through all of the sensuous means—not simply words, but lighting, music, color, sound—available as well to dramatists’ tools in the creation of the aesthetic object. As Williams writes in his afterword to Camino Real, “I felt, as the painter did, that the messages lie in those abstract beauties of form and color and line, to which I would add light and motion.” [Indeed, in his notes on Menagerie’s production Williams explains that] “when a play employs unconventional techniques, it is not, or certainly shouldn’t be, trying to escape its responsibility of dealing with reality, or interpreting experience, but is actually or should be attempting to find a closer approach, a more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they are. . . . Truth, life, or reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest, in essence, only through transformation, through changing into other forms than those which were merely present in appearance.” It is more than lyric language, or even recurrent scenic images of great visual beauty, than justify terming Williams a “poetic dramatist”; it is a habit of seeing experience as a multilayered construct or network that tends toward the metaphoric, the symbolic, the archetypal. . . . [This places Williams clearly in the arenas of two related art movements that arose at the turn of the 19th century, expressionism and symbolism.] Expressionism, as a movement, embraced . . . . not only drama but the other pictorial arts of painting, sculpture, and cinema as well, and has as its goal the objectification of the inner experience of reality. Through a heavy dependence upon symbols, it attempts to transform into something ascertainable by the sense the interior or psychic condition of— in the case of drama—the central character onstage. Williams finds this potentiality of expressionism . . . particularly fruitful in his characterization of Blanche DuBois. . . . It 44
allows him to express through visual rather than verbal means what is going on in the mind of this protagonist, and even the nightmarish disintegration of that mind. A Streetcar Named Desire is most expressionistic precisely at those moments when the audience shares with Blanche an internal perception that is not apparent to the other characters. . . . The play, in fact, becomes more expressionistic in its style as Blanche’s emotional and mental breakdown becomes more pronounced. . . . Despite their usefulness in objectifying what is essentially subjective, symbols are not, of course, the exclusive domain of the expressionistic movement, . . . it has always been a natural tendency of the stage to turn things into symbols. And symbols are, as Williams makes abundantly clear in his essays over the years, an integral part of his dramatic technique. . . . Claiming that all “art is made out of symbols the way your body is made out of vital tissue,” and that any “play that is more of a dramatic poem than a play is bound to rest on metaphorical ways of expression,” Williams concludes, this time in his foreword to Camino Real, that “symbols are nothing but the natural speech of drama . . . the purest language of plays.” Arguing, in a fashion similar to Carl Jung, that everyone’s mind is an immense reservoir of shared images on which both drama and communication are based, Williams claims the chief purpose of symbolism in drama is to “say a thing more directly and simply and beautifully than it could be said in words. . . . Sometimes it would take page after tedious page of exposition to put across an idea that can be said with an object or gestures on the lighted stage.” . . . A further distinction that sets Streetcar apart from virtually every American play that preceded it—and from the majority that would follow—is Williams’ ability to capture something of the complexity of the novel within the dramatic form, especially in the area of character probity and psychology [through his integration of all of theatre’s elements and his emphasis on the emotional and psychological states of his characters]. . . Blanche’s Psychology . . . Williams’ moral system [has] two chief tenets: as humans, we must accept a fallen world peopled by emotionally and morally frail creatures, and we must reach out to one another with compassion, nonjudgmentally recognizing one another’s human weaknesses and responding to each other’s needs. . . . [Blanche has violated] Williams’ first commandment to accept what is human about the other [in her rejecting her husband, and] her life since then has been a trail of attempted forgetfulness (she reverts to her maiden name) and of guilt; of sex with, or overtures to, young men . . . to compensate for having rejected Allan [her husband], to assuage her guilt, to forestall time; and of drink until she stills the noise of the revolver shot [ending Allan’s life] in her head. Having lost her sense of worth and her self-respect, yet needing somehow to counter Allan’s death and affirm life though its opposite—desire—she turns with confusion to brief sexual encounters. . . . As an epigraph to Streetcar, Williams chooses four lines from Hart Crane’s poem, “The Broken Tower”: And so it was that I entered the broken world To trace the visionary company of love, its voice An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled) But not for long to hold each desperate choice. . . . Blanche finds herself in “a broken world” because the passage of time and social change mean that the present cannot recapture the past. Her rejection of Allan has also 45
caused her spiritual desolation, sexual longing, and psychological dislocation. “The visionary company of love”—potentially offered by Stella and then by Mitch—is the hoped for and nearly achieved salvation. Yet these moments of affirmation prove fleeting. Perhaps the key word in the epigraph is “visionary”: Blanche’s idealistic expectations place an almost transcendent faith in others that they are ill-prepared to live up to. Streetcar is partially about the need for mutuality among human beings, about acting as God to others through responding to cries for help [Blanche responds to Mitch’s open arms with “Sometimes there’s God—so quickly!”], especially of the desperate, the lonely and the misfits of the world. To escape the usual human condition of selfcenteredness and solipsism (Williams has said “Hell is yourself”) and break through the barriers that separate demands not only pity, without any hint of condescension for the physical, psychological and spiritual lot of others, but compassion without judgment. If the universe sometimes seems silent and unresponsive to Williams’ characters and their misery, they counter with their outgoing responsiveness to others. This demands, however, a flexibility in ethical standards, a realization that one’s own moral system might not be that of another. Yet if these frailties and weaknesses are understandably human and not hurtful to others, then they deserve to be treated compassionately. This demands that one’s moral categories, especially in the realm of human sexuality, be flexible. . . . To respond to another’s needs—or to have one’s needs met by the other—in unselfish yet simultaneously self-fulfilling love is perhaps the most that any of Williams’ misbegotten creatures can hope to achieve. [When they can’t, as Blanche cannot, like Williams they roam, searching for some new hopeful place. Adler points out the travel images throughout the play, from the title, Streetcar, to Blanche’s set of directions to her final journey—“I’m only passing through” which] confirms the spectators’ sense that Williams builds his action around the image of an alienated, isolated wanderer seeking some kind of human connection. Life in the Crescent City ca. 1948 From: New Orleans is a Lady, Hartnett T. Kane [Writing in the late Forties, Kane prefaces his casual history of the Crescent City by noting that, as one of the Confederacy’s main ports, it suffered during Reconstruction and after to the same degree it was vital to the CSA.] It saw the river trade drop, the weeds push their way between the flagstones. The acid of poverty ate into the great homes; pillared doorways sagged, and ironwork rusted and broke apart. Then, slowly, restoration, a nearmiracle. Never a meek city, New Orleans fought back. In its struggle it found new resources within itself. Today it is vigorously on the way up again. At the same time it has maintained its ancient identity to a remarkable degree. There are those who claim that, if they were brought here by air, blindfolded, and set down on almost any street, they could identify the place instantly as New Orleans. A certain appearance, the "set" of a house, a sentence of speech—any of these is unmistakably sui generis. 46
The town spreads over a wide area, more than 350 square miles . . . . The original town is but a fraction of the whole, though its philosophy dominates a great deal of the rest. This French Quarter is today a conglomerate—some of it old, the rest not so old; French, American, Spanish, Italian, Filipino, Irish, German, Chinese, Greek—almost anything you mention. The Quarter endured years of blighting ruin; yet for square after square, restoration has been at work here, too. Orleanians have "moved back," to repair, repaint, and refurbish houses in the earlier style, and to gather again in the evenings on the vine-hung galleries. . . . Just beyond is French Market, where Orleanians go, as did their greatgrandmothers and greatgrandfathers, to sample river shrimp, bayou crabs, vegetables, and spices. It is a many-flavored spot. . . . A few squares off is Royal, for generations the most fashionable of the original streets [and one of Tennessee’s early addresses]. Beyond, the Quarter shades into rows of houses once impressive, now forlorn, with clothes hanging behind iron scrolls that bear the monogram of longdead owners. Bourbon, once the French Opera street, is now a glittering expanse of nightclubs and saloons, strip-teases and a hundred other titillating spots. In its way Bourbon is now as famous as once-fabled Basin Street, where love was offered on a cashand-carry basis. . . Esplanade Avenue, tree-bordered residential thoroughfare of later Creoles, is nearby, with lines of stuccoed houses showing touches of the classic. Old North Rampart, similarly, was once an aristocratic thoroughfare; a few homes hang on, next to garages and rooming-houses. Canal, long the outer edge of town, is now the commercial center, one of the widest of streets, almost endlessly decorated for holidays and special seasons. New Orleans is always having a festival, a parade, or a show of some kind. Into this hub of the town runs South Rampart, the street of Negroes, with hot dog stands, pawnshops, and jazz—the city's great gift to millions of Americans. From Canal, too, runs St. Charles Street, symbol of American influence. Higher up begins the Garden District, the homes of the Americans, made cheerful by the flower beds and by the birds in great oaks, pecan trees, and magnolias. . . This town of some 6oo,ooo people is a place of curious likes and dislikes, of assorted peculiarities. The Orleanian detests dimes: anybody who receives one immediately passes it to the next victim. Nobody says "porch" or "veranda"; to call a gallery by any other name reveals the speaker as an outlander. And Americans and Creoles alike spurn "sidewalk" in favor of that older word, banquette, from the French word for bench. (Originally the walks were low wooden structures over the mud.) . . . New Orleans is a place of breadeaters, consuming more per capita than any other city in America. Orleanians refuse to give up their preference for long loaves of crisp French bread; and they render homage to the “poor boy sandwich,” a half-loaf of that bread stuffed with meat, tomatoes, dressing, gravy—enough, perhaps, for a small family. ... 47
In the French section, upstairs residents needing supplies attach ropes to baskets, call down to nearby merchants, and lower the baskets. Filled, they are drawn up again, and Madame has saved herself a roundtrip. Another labor-saver: You lock the downstairs door against intruders, but when a friend arrives you lean over the gallery, drop the key, and again eliminate exertion. . . . And, despite the inroads of modern merchandising, black street criers still walk or ride about on wagons, offering figs, blackberries, and coal. Chimney sweeps, traveling in pairs, call “Raminay! Raminay!” They wear handed-down evening suits and high hats, and carry rope, straw, and palmetto to make the chimney draw. . . . It is a city that conceals much of itself from the too casual. Its moods vary; it is now cosmopolitan, again provincial; one part placid, almost pastoral, another white-hot in temper. It delights in gossip, yet its columnists print no impending divorces or births. It has some of the ripest slums in America, and in certain sections class lines harder than the ancient ironwork. In general it is somewhat more tolerant toward Negroes than most Southern cities; yet it has known more than a few bloody riots against minorities. Between upper St. Charles Avenue with its white houses and palms, and Bourbon with its impudent and raffish air, differences cut deep. The distance from the mirror-hung plantation house on Bayou St. John to the French Market coffee shop, where all the city meets after a Carnival ball or a party, is a matter of far more than a few linear miles. An artist group huddles cross-legged about an open fire in a cubicle on Chartres Street, arguing economics, war, and Freud. Next door two maidens of seventy sit in their courtyard beneath walls that their ancestor built long, long ago. . . . Let the world change; they will never desert the great shadowy house in which they occupy two of the eighteen rooms. A few squares away . . . , a black jazz assembly seethes in an obscure shack, successor to Funky Butt Hall of earlier, and redolent, fame. And a short way from that, a group of light-skinned [blacks] drink anisette, that favorite liqueur of another day, and talk in French of their mulatto ancestor shown in the wall frame, who had slaves in his own name. . . . A few steps from one of the loudest [gambling] places lives a group of quiet families whose existence is as staid as though they lived in a community of five hundred. I once asked a member of such a family how she put up with the wild times at her elbow. "Oh," she twinkled, "I have heard of that place,. yes. But I never go there myself. And so . . ." A great deal of New Orleans is like that. It has heard, but doesn't go, and so. . . I remember a remarkable bartender, Bussey, [who] liked his customers, and, careless in arithmetic, he often gave back too much change. Once when this was called to his attention he gave a wide grin. "What of it? It's all the same—six of one, fifty of the other!" The lady that is New Orleans, too, often appears to smile and say: six of one, fifty of the other.
America and New Orleans Politics in the 1940s Post-war America and Americans From: Streetcar: The Moth and The Lantern In his introduction to The 1940s: Profile of a Nation in Crisis, Chester Eisinger delineates the mood of the decade as “one of fear, terror, uncertainty, and violence, mingled with sad satisfactions and a relief at victory.” It was the decade of the war and its aftermath: the former characterized by “fear of death,” the latter by “fear of the bomb and of the government.” The bomb could, of course end civilization itself; the government potentially could fester a cold war paranoia and xenophobia in the face of a supposed Communist threat—and a well-intentioned if overzealous segment of it in fact did. The effect upon the citizenry, Eisinger argues, was a regimentation and depersonalization not only within the military during the war but within business and labor in the postwar years. Corporations demanded conformity form their “organization” men, and even the unions fostered an atmosphere of “impersonality” that was “inhospitable to . . . the idiosyncratic self.” Eisinger claims this increasing dehumanization finds reflection in the literature and the art of the period, with their themes of “the quest for identity” and “the alienation of man from the self and from society,” as well as a concomitant shift away “from social consciousness to aestheticism.” The shifts in social class and status resulting from the New Deal of the Thirties and the wartime economy of the Forties caused many people to feel a sense of dislocation. Their resulting search for belonging and connection led them to look to the past to discover some “stability.” . . . Williams’ works reflect a number of the themes that Eisinger finds in the Forties, including concern with isolation, alienation, and identity. . . . Streetcar looks, however fleetingly, at the returning soldier/officer who must now be reintegrated into a work force. . . . The veterans face jobs that are often just as unrewarding and impersonal as the military and a society not yet doing a great deal for those how had served. Their new lives appear closer to drudgery than an opportunity to reap the benefits of the American Dream they fought to preserve and protect. . . . New Orleans: From: Louisiana: A History During his second mayoral administration [beginning in 1942, Huey Long-follower Robert S.] Maestri found federal funds severely curtailed because World War II demands had priority over civic betterment, and state funds were cut off because of a hostile [antiLongite] administration in Baton Rouge, so Maestri permitted organized crime and vice to flourish. Accusations of prostitution, gambling, and liquor violations reached record levels; wholesale graft ran rampant. His successor claimed that Maestri employed more than 3,000 political supporters as "ratcatchers." While the remark was no doubt made in jest, political cronyism did pervade the city government. By the end of World War II, the people of New Orleans were ready for change. Their husbands 49
and sons had just made the world safe for democracy for the second time in less than thirty years, and they believed that their city government should uphold decent and ethical standards. Encouraged by popular discontent with the Maestri regime, many reform-minded citizens organized a movement to oust the mayor in the 1946 city elections. Governor Davis, former Governor Sam Jones, Congressman T. Hale Boggs, and Times-Picayune publisher John F. Tims led the movement. After a long and unsuccessful attempt to find a candidate to oppose Maestri, they settled on a war veteran, State Representative DeLesseps S. "Chep" Morrison, who had returned from Europe late in 1945. . . . DeLesseps Morrison quickly established a public reputation as a highly efficient and progressive mayor. Within four years, monuments to his administration abounded: new underpasses and overpasses and many other government structures, as well as a model city recreation department. Morrison actively promoted the Port of New Orleans, and under his leadership the city was catapulted into second place among the nation's ports. An energetic city public relations office promoted him to national recognition. By 1948 the dynamic young mayor had been featured in such magazines as Time and Reader's Digest. [But] Morrison's reformist reputation . . . clashed with the political considerations necessary for the proper functioning of his administration. He virtually destroyed the Longite-Old Regular political machine and replaced it with his own organization, the Crescent City Democratic Association (CCDA). He replaced hundreds of Maestri supporters with CCDA people. An extremely active mayor, Morrison made himself conspicuous at ball games, Mardi Gras parades, cultural events, and religious functions. Although constantly in the public eye, he managed to conceal the seamier side of his regime from the public and press for many years [meaning it was really all business as usual. New Orleans isnâ€™t called the Big Easy for nothing. . .].
Questions for After Reading the Script 1. Blanche arrives at Stella’s home by riding a streetcar named Desire. Explain the significance of the title and how it refers to the themes in the play. 2. The United States went through a dramatic transition after World War II. The rise of a middle class began shortly after the soldiers returned and with that ascending middle class came the demise of certain lifestyles, particularly that of the “Old South.” Southern gentility and family patronage gave way to a more egalitarian way of life. How do Blanche, Stella, and Stanley fare in this “New South”? 3. What was the reason Blanche left Belle Reve? What is Blanche hoping to accomplish by visiting Stella in New Orleans? 4. Stella tells Blanche that “I assure you I wasn’t blinded by all that brass,” referring to the photograph of Stanley in his Master Sergeant’s uniform. What else does Stella see in Stanley? 5. What is Mitch’s impression of Blanche when he first meets her? How does his view of her evolve throughout the play? 6. Beyond the symbolism of the play’s title, discuss some of the other symbols and metaphors that are found in A Streetcar Named Desire. 7. Blanche is not the only character who is scarred by her visit to her sister’s. How are Stella’s, Stanley’s and Mitch’s lives irrevocably changed? 8. Blanche delivers an impassioned speech to Stella at the end of act one, disparaging Stanley and encouraging her to embrace life’s more refined pleasures. What is your reaction to Blanche during this monologue? Should Stella take her advice? 9. Tennessee Williams uses stage directions to specify the poetic quality of certain scenes, and in doing so he sometimes removes the play from the realm of naturalistic drama. This often helps us enter Blanche’s thoughts. Review the script for scenes that contain elements of this heightened drama.
Post-Performance Questions 1. A Streetcar Named Desire is perhaps the best-known American play, and this often presents a challenge for the theatre mounting the production: the audience comes with certain expectations of how the play should look. Watch the film A Streetcar Named Desire. Compare the film to Syracuse Stage’s production. How are the two alike and how do they differ? Discuss character, design, direction, etc. 2. How did both the film version and Syracuse Stage’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire differ from how you imagined the play when you were reading it? Which did you enjoy the most: film version, theatre version, or your imagination? Explain why. 3. Which scene did you find the most engrossing in our production? Explain why. Was it the same scene you found most engrossing when you read the script? 4. How did the Syracuse Stage’s set designer capture the ambiance of New Orleans in the 1940s? 5. The sound designer is responsible for not only for creating the incidental sound effects in the play, and there are many in A Streetcar Named Desire, but also for creating the play’s mood through music and other audio devices. Think back on Syracuse Stage’s production. How may different sound effects were used? How did the designer create the world of the play through sound? Can you think of other ways to enhance the play through sound? 6. What scene in the play moved you the most? Describe the elements of the scene, such as dialogue, physical action, lighting, sound, costumes, props, etc., that contributed to your reaction. 7. Ethnicity and class are subtly woven into A Streetcar named Desire. Discuss some of the moments in the play where these issues are addressed. 8. In addition to learning a character’s lines, an actor must understand the motivation behind the dialogue. In fact, it’s helpful to flesh out other aspects of character too. Choose a character and describe the way the actor brought the physical qualities of that character to life. 9. Discuss how the costumes reflected the era of the play and the personalities of the characters. 10. After having read the play and viewed Syracuse Stage’s production, was there an aspect of the story that you were not aware of until seeing the production? Was there anything in the script that you thought wasn’t apparent in the production?
For Further Discussions 1. Read Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Discuss some of the themes that this play shares with A Streetcar Named Desire. Are there any similarities with the characters in each play? 2. Research the life of Tennessee Williams. What are some of the events in his life that shaped his writing? 3. Some of America’s most distinctive authors have hailed from the South. Read some of the works by Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, William Faulkner, Ernest Gaines, or other Southern writers. What sensibilities, if any, do these writers share with Tennessee Williams? 4. How sympathetic are you about the plight of Blanche? Explain your answer. 5. Today, New Orleans is a city known for its celebration of cultural diversity, the best known celebration being the Mardi Gras. Research the history of New Orleans from its original inhabitants, the slave trade, and the French occupation to its current state today. 6. Blanche tells Mitch, “Show me a person that hasn’t known sorrow, and I’ll show you a superficial person.” What do you make of this comment? Do you think there is any truth in it? 7. Review the scene at the top of the play where Eunice brings Blanche into Stanley and Stella’s apartment. Why do you think Tennessee Williams chooses to introduce Blanche with this scene? 8. The are many colloquialisms and slang words that are used throughout A Streetcar Named Desire. Cull the script for as many expressions that you think are representative of the time, region, and the characters—phrases that aren’t part of your idiom. 9. The use of music, both real and imagined (Blanche is haunted by the dance music she heard the night her husband committed suicide), creates a certain emotional setting as well as indicating the time period. As the Geva Theatre staff noted in their study guide, “from as early as his play The Glass Menagerie, Williams was interested in a concept he called "the new plastic theatre," a theatrical type of expressionism incorporating lighting, music, sound, and other dramatic elements. His brilliant use of symbols to underscore, enhance and contrast the content and action of his plays influenced the designers of his productions and became Williams' trademark. While this was a fairly new concept in the forties, it’s one common approach among many today. Are there elements of our production that Williams would have considered appropriate? Does our production serve his play?
Writing Assignments 1. At the end of A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche is led away to an asylum. Put yourself in the shoes of the psychiatrist who must evaluate Blanche’s condition. Write a series of questions that you think will elicit responses from her which will be helpful in treating her condition. 2. Most American cities were experiencing a transformation after World War II. Research what events were occurring in New Orleans after WWII, and write a newspaper article on a story that might have been written in New Orleans at that time. 3. Blanche mentions some of the poets she teaches to her students: Hawthorne, Whitman, and Poe. Do you think that Blanche has ever tried her hand at poetry? Write a few verses about her first love that might have come from her pen. Keep in mind Blanche’s florid style. 4. Finish the letter that Blanche started writing to Shep Huntleigh. Have her ask Shep for the money she needs to come visit him. Write the letter in a way that is as circuitous and deceptive as the part of the letter she reads aloud to Stella. 5. Write a monologue for Stella in which she tells Blanche why she left Belle Reve. 6. Write a scene between Stanley and Stella where Stella confronts him about the night he raped Blanche. Consider Stanley’s reaction. Will his response be forceful, threatening, or remorseful? 7. Write a monologue for Mitch where he tells his mother why he wants to marry Blanche. 8. Invent names for the other streetcars in New Orleans. Make them as unique as the one named Desire, but make sure they reflect some theme in the play. 9. Write a brief essay on the use of symbolism in A Streetcar Named Desire. Cite examples that you think were most effective in establishing the mood and the themes of the play. 10. Envision Stanley and Stella’s future together. Will they stay married? Will their son’s behavior resemble Stanley’s? Will there be more children? Write an epilogue to the play that addresses their future. 11. Compare Blanche and Stella to Amanda and Laura in Glass Menagerie. How do these heroines from Williams’ plays adapt to their circumstances and how successful are they at obtaining their goals?
Arts Activities-Visual Arts and Acting & Improv 1. Choose one element from Syracuse Stage’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire and use it as the inspiration for a poster design. Include all the information that is pertinent to the production: dates, time, leading artists’ names, etc. 2. Using the psychiatrist’s questions from the Writing Assignments section, divide the class into groups of two with one student assuming the role of Blanche and the other the psychiatrist. 3. Research Southern dialects in the United States. Assign some of the monologues from the play to the students to recite using a southern accent. Have them explain the reasoning behind their pronunciations. 4. Using the poems that were written by the students from Blanche’s perspective, have them now recite the poems with a Southern accent. Does hearing the way the poems sound with the accent lend a more poetic quality to the words? 5. Reference is made to Stanley’s heroism during WWII, where he served with Mitch. When Mitch is questioned about their service together he is bitter. When Stanley mentions the war in act three, scene five he says, “I figured four out of five would not come through, but I would . . . and I did.” This causes Mitch to lash out at Stanley. What do you think is going through Mitch’s mind? Continue act three, scene five at the poker table as an improv with the poker players. Let Mitch continue to confront Stanley from the point when he says, “You . . . you . . . you . . . ” 6. Belle Reve is mentioned frequently in A Streetcar Named Desire. Based on what is said about the plantation, draw a sketch of the DuBois’ home in Laurel. Capture its likeness in either its heyday or its state of disrepair. 7. Using the monologues that were written for Stella and Mitch in the Writing Assignments section, have the students memorize and recite their work. Make sure they incorporate what they have learned about Southern dialects. 8. Costume design is an integral part of establishing character. Divide the class into groups of two and have them dress as famous characters in American Literature or American Drama. (It might be helpful to compile a list characters from novels and plays.) Have the students determine who they wish to impersonate. Then play twenty questions to see if the class can determine who they are. Have them discuss their choice of costume afterwards. 9. Ask the students research some of the jazz and ragtime that is synonymous with New Orleans. Have some of them rehearse and perform one of these numbers, such as “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
Quotations from the Play Use the following quotations to discuss specific events from A Streetcar Named Desire in context, or to discuss the universal ideas expressed by the quotations. You might use the quotations as a springboard to role-playing, or as the first line of letters, poems, and short stories; or you may choose to use them as titles for pictures, paintings, other visual images or music. Blanche:
“Out there, I suppose, is the ghoul-haunted woodland of the Weir!”
“And funerals are pretty compared to deaths.”
(Speaking of liquor) “Some people rarely touch it, but it touches them often.”
“All right! How about cuttin’ the re-bop!”
“I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action.”
“Poker should not be played in a house with women.”
“In this dark march toward whatever it is we’re approaching . . . Don’t— don’t hang back with the brutes!”
“Don’t you just love these long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour—but a little bit of eternity dropped in your hands— and who knows what to do with it?”
“Remember what Huey Long said: ‘Every man is a King!’—And I am the king around here, so don’t you forget it!”
“I pulled you down off them columns and how you loved it, having them colored lights going!”
“Luck is believing your lucky.”
“Don’t you ever believe it. You’ve got to keep on goin’, honey. No matter what happens, we’ve all got to keep on going.”
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Sources: A Streetcar Named Desire Adler, Thomas P. A Streetcar Named Desire: The Moth and the Lantern. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990. Bartleby.com. “Ulalame.” 2001. Harvard Classics, English Poetry III: From Tennyson to Whitman. 11 May 2001. www.britannica.com/42/757.html. —. “Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Sonnets from the Portuguese, XLIII.” 2001. Harvard Classics, English Poetry II: From Collins to Fitzgerald. 30 May 2001. www.britannica.com/41/620.html. Britannica.com. “Tennessee Williams.” 1999-2001. Encyclopedia Britannica. 11 May 2001. www.britannica.com —. “Louisiana.” 1999-2001. Encyclopedia Britannica. 16 May 2001. www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=12186&tocid=0. Kane, Harnett T. Queen New Orleans: City by the River. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1949. Kolin, Philip C. Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000. Leverich, Lyle. Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1995. The Lied and Song Texts Page. Emily Ezust. “From the Land of Sky-Blue Water.” 12 March 2001. The REC Music Foundation. 24 May 2001. www.recmusic.org/lieder Loggia, Marjorie and Young, Glenn, eds. The Collected Works of Harold Clurman: Six Decades of Commentary on Theatre, Dance, Music, Film, Arts and Letters. New York: Applause Theatre Books, 1994. Wall, Bennett H., ed. Louisiana: a History. Arlington Heights, IL: The Forum Press, Inc., 1984. Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984. Williams, Tennessee. —. In the Winter of Cities: Poems by Tennessee Williams. New York: New Directions, 1956. —. Memoirs. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1975. —. A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: New American Library, 1947. —. Where I Live: Selected Essays. Day, Christine R. and Woods, Bob, eds. New York: New Directions, 1978. 57