Tennessee Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire

I’ve never seen a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire and so perhaps it’s strange that I’m writing what appears to be a review of the play. Reviewing plays as plays, before they’re plays (if you see what I mean?) isn’t really done is it? Perhaps with good reason, as a play isn’t a play before it’s brought to life on the stage… or is it?

This week I read A Streetcar Named Desire, first performed in 1949, for – shockingly – the first time. Why this reading event hadn’t occurred before is beyond me, but there we go – I just hadn’t taken the time to read it. Now I can’t get enough of it, and so I wanted to share some comments on Williams’ work.

Peter Shaffer has said of Williams: ‘Whatever he put on paper … could not fail to be electrifyingly actable’ and this is something that certainly jumped out at me, and made the play so readable.

As a director I like reading plays, I have to. But rarely do I enjoy them in the same way as I do a novel, hooked on plot and what will happen next. For me it often takes time to bring a play to life in my head, and see how it can be brought to life on stage. Not so with Streetcar; this is playwriting so vivid and effervescent that the characters, the scenarios, scream out from the pages passionately desiring to be given fully fledged life on the stage.

The dialogue strikes just the right balance between theatricality and real life. It’s a heightened situation, sure, and the characters are perhaps slightly exaggerated, but the catalyst of real emotions – real madness in the world – doesn’t fail to make its mark.

It’s a play written with a clear knowledge of theatricality, of art in general and of symbolism. A knowledge of the fact that art is always representing real life, can never be it, and the best – and varying – means through which art can represent.

The extremely detailed – Beckettian in this way – stage directions also stood out to me. I even feel I’ve learnt something about means of expression and representation on stage from them. Williams’ directions do differ from Beckett’s in the sense that they seem to be offering more creative scope, rather than limitations, for a director.

A Streetcar Named Desire also holds surprises, or it did for me anyway, as what appears to be a narrative and character driven drama degenerates – loses the plot – as the famous Blanche does the same.

Suffice to say, A Streetcar Named Desire has inspired me as a director and as a writer. Now I just to need to see it, and read some more Tennessee Williams.

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