This is a Fictional Friday post, where I review a book (but it might not always be fiction)
Most people don’t read plays; they watch them.
That makes sense; that’s what plays are made for.
I read plays because I study them, but try to watch any play I’m studying, because you don’t get a real sense of it otherwise.
A Streetcar Named Desire isn’t the same as other plays. Obviously, it was still written to be seen, but reading it gives tantamount pleasure.
For anyone who isn’t aware, and without giving any spoilers, A Streetcar Named Desire is about the once glamorous Blanch Dubois, who moves in with her sister and her husband in a small flat in New Orleans.
Something the play, the text and the film all do wonderfully is a sense of tension, claustrophobia, and raw emotion.
Nothing about this play is sugar-coated. Blanche’s road to self-destruction, her drinking problems, her past promiscuity. Stella‘s passionate relationship with her husband; the sex and the violence. Stanley’s animalistic habits and his inability to control them.
The play – as a text and on stage – leaves nothing to be desired.
What annoys about A Streetcar Names Desire is two things:
Firstly, something my English teacher said when I studied this in High School. “The Reason Tennessee Williams wrote women so well was because he was gay”.
What? How would being a man who’s attracted to other men make someone good at writing female characters? He writes fantastic women; but I’m sure this isn’t anything to do with him being gay.
Of course, this isn’t an issue with the text, I’m simply reminded of it whenever I read/watch it.
Without giving anything away, Stella makes a seemingly impossible decision at the end of the play, but an inevitable one. Yes, she hurts herself and Blanche, but the alternative isn’t possible.
The film, however, changes it, to a “perfect” ending – except when you consider how she’s supposed to support her newborn child.
I’ve began to sound pretty abstract now, so I’ll move on.
I’ve been to see this play a few times, and one of these times the production team blasted the smell of coffee and bananas into the audience.
Strange, I know.
This was because Williams’ stage directions aren’t like normal stage directions. They’re written almost like prose. At one point he talks about the smell of coffee and bananas… but I’m sure he didn’t mean this literally.
Rather than telling the director exactly how everything should be done for the production, Williams writes long blocks of prose as stage directions for a lot of his plays. This means that the director has the independence to add their own slant on the play, the freedom to be artistic. More importantly, it means the essence of the play is captured. He talks, in his stage directions, of things it would be impossible for the director to show the audience. He describes, for instance, of “the infatuated fluency of brown fingers”. Not only is the piano being described here off-stage, but the phrase here has consonance in it: say it aloud, and notice the f sounds. It’s a beautiful piece of writing.
The atmosphere is being described here, not “directed” as would be expected from stage directions.
This is what makes A Streetcar Named Desire a play not just to be seen, but also to be read.
This is why, if you intend to ever open a play as a text, and not just watch it, make sure it’s a Tennessee Williams play; or better yet, this Williams play.