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A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1947 play written by American playwright Tennessee Williams for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1947. The play opened on Broadwaymarker on December 3, 1947 and closed on December 17, 1949 in the Ethel Barrymore Theatremarker. The Broadway production was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden. The London production opened in 1949 with Bonar Colleano, Vivien Leigh, and Renee Asherton and was directed by Laurence Oliver.

In 1951, a film adaptation of the play, directed by Elia Kazan, won several awards, including an Academy Award for Vivien Leigh as Best Actress in the role of Blanche. Jessica Tandy was the only lead actor from the original Broadway production not to appear the 1951 film.

Further creative adaptations include a 1995 opera with music by André Previn and presented by the San Francisco Opera.

There was an applause that lasted 30 minutes when the play ended.

Plot synopsis

Widely considered a landmark play, A Streetcar Named Desire deals with a culture clash between two iconic characters, Blanche DuBois, a relic of the Old South, and Stanley Kowalski, a rising member of the industrial, urban working class.The play presents Blanche DuBois, a fading but still-attractive Southern belle whose pretensions to virtue and culture only thinly mask alcoholism and delusions of grandeur. Her poise is an illusion she presents to shield others (but most of all, herself) from her reality, and an attempt to make herself still attractive to new male suitors. Blanche arrives at the apartment of her sister Stella Kowalski in the Faubourg Marignymarker of New Orleansmarker, on Elysian Fields Avenue; the local transportation she takes to arrive there includes a streetcar route named "Desire". The steamy, urban ambiance is a shock to Blanche's nerves. Explaining that her ancestral southern plantation, Belle Reve (translated from French as "Beautiful Dream", though the correct French phrase is actually Beau Rêve), in Laurel, Mississippi, has been "lost" due to the "epic fornications" of her ancestors, Blanche is welcomed with some trepidation by Stella, who fears the reaction of her husband Stanley. Here "epic fornications" may be interpreted as the debauchery of her ancestors which in turn caused them financial losses. Blanche explains her supervisor allowed her to take time off from her job as an English teacher because of her upset nerves, when in fact, she has been fired for having an affair with a 17-year-old student. This turns out not to be the only seduction she has engaged in—and, along with other problems, has led her to escape Laurel. A brief marriage marred by the discovery that her spouse, Allan Grey (commonly misspelt as 'Allen'), was having a homosexual affair and his subsequent suicide has led Blanche to withdraw into a world in which fantasies and illusions blend seamlessly with reality.

In contrast to both the self-effacing and deferential Stella and the pretentious refinement of Blanche, Stella's husband, Stanley Kowalski, is a force of nature: primal, rough-hewn, brutish and sensual. He dominates Stella in every way and is physically and emotionally abusive. Stella tolerates his primal behaviour as this is part of what attracted her in the first place; their love and relationship are heavily based on powerful—even animalistic— sexual chemistry, something that Blanche finds impossible to understand.

The arrival of Blanche upsets her sister and brother-in-law's system of mutual dependence. Stella's concern for her sister's well-being emboldens Blanche to hold court in the Kowalski apartment, infuriating Stanley and leading to conflict in his relationship with his wife. Blanche and Stanley are on a collision course, and Stanley's friend and Blanche's would-be suitor Mitch, will get trampled in their path. Stanley discovers Blanche's past through a co-worker who travels to Laurel frequently, and he confronts her with the things she has been trying to put behind her, partly out of concern that her character flaws may be damaging to the lives of those in her new home, just as they were in Laurel, and partly out of a distaste for pretense in general. However, his attempts to "unmask" her are predictably cruel and violent. Their final confrontation—Williams alludes to rape, but never states it directly—results in Blanche's nervous breakdown. Stanley has her committed to a mental institution, and in the closing moments, Blanche utters her signature line to the kindly doctor who leads her away: "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers".

The reference to the streetcar called Desire—providing the aura of New Orleans geography—is symbolic. Blanche not only has to travel on a streetcar route named "Desire" to reach Stella's home on "Elysian Fields" but her desire acts as an irrepressible force throughout the play—she can only hang on as her desires lead her.

The character of Blanche is thought to be based on Williams' sister Rose Williams who struggled with her mental health and became incapacitated after a lobotomy.

Sound Effects

The original script is unusual in that the author included a comprehensive sound effects plot, most notably sounds of passing trains which punctuate the action and heighten the sense of Blanche's being left behind.

Themes and motifs

Illusion versus reality

A recurring theme that can be found in A Streetcar Named Desire is the reflection of old America and the thriving new America of the immigrants. Blanche is penniless and Stanley, as a Polish immigrant, is powerful and confident. There is constant conflict between reality and fantasy, actual and ideal. Blanche says "I don't want realism, I want magic." This recurring theme is read most strongly in Williams' characterization of Blanche DuBois and the physical tropes that she employs in her pursuit of what is magical and idealized: a paper lampshade with which she covers the harsh white light bulb in the living room; her chronically deceptive recounting of her last years in Belle Reve; the misleading letters she presumes to write to Shep Huntleigh; and a pronounced tendency toward excessive consumption of alcohol. As one critic writes, "Blanche spins a cocoon linguistically for protection." Blanche creates her own fantasy world through the characters she plays, such as the damsel, southern belle or school teacher. She wears her costumes to create a façade to hide behind, concealing her secrets and attempting to reach her former glory, and illustrating her inability to relate to others in a "normal" sense.

Notably, Blanche's deception of others and herself is not characterized by malicious intent, but rather a heart-broken and saddened retreat to a romantic time and happier moments before disaster struck her life (her previous loved one, the refined Allan Gray, committed suicide during a Varsouviana Polka, as a reaction to Blanche's revulsion when she discovered he was homosexual, after she accidentally encountered him having sex with another man).

The contrast between Blanche and Stanley can be understood as reflecting a similar opposition: the 'fake', illusionary and self-deceptive woman, versus her sister's coarsely, brutally present and animalistic husband, simplistic and 'real' in his corporeal presence.

Abandonment of chivalric codes

In fairy tales, the ailing princess or the damsel in distress is often rescued by a heroic white knight. A Streetcar Named Desire is characterized by the conspicuous absence of the male protagonist imbued with heroic qualities. Indeed, the polar opposite of what a literary chivalric hero might be is represented in the leading male character of the play, Stanley Kowalski. Stanley is described by Blanche as a "survivor of the Stone Age" and is further depicted in this primitive light by numerous traits that he exhibits: uncivilized manners, demanding and forceful behavior, lack of empathy, crass selfishness, and a chauvinistic attitude towards women. The replacement of the heroic white knight by a character such as Stanley Kowalski further heightens Williams' theme of the demise of the romantic "old South." Similarly, the character of Mitch is something of a social maladroit, chivalrous but dull. Even he proves susceptible to baser instincts when he makes a last sexual advance on Blanche after having lost interest in marrying her.

Stage productions

Original Broadway production

The original Broadwaymarker production was produced by Irene Mayer Selznick. It opened at the Shubertmarker in New Havenmarker shortly before moving to the Ethel Barrymore Theatremarker on December 3, 1947. Selznick originally wanted to cast Margaret Sullavan and John Garfield, but settled on Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy, who were virtual unknowns at the time. Brando was given car fare to Tennessee Williams' home in Provincetown, Massachusettsmarker, where he not only gave a sensational reading, but did some house repairs as well. Tandy was cast after Williams saw her performance in a West Coast production of his one-act play Portrait of a Madonna. The opening night cast also included Kim Hunter as Stella and Karl Malden as Mitch. Later in the run, Uta Hagen replaced Tandy, and Anthony Quinn replaced Brando. Hagen and Quinn took the show on a national tour and then returned back to Broadway for additional performances. Early on, when Brando broke his nose, Jack Palance took over his role. Ralph Meeker also took on the part of Stanley both in the Broadway and touring companies. Tandy received a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play in 1948, sharing the honor with Judith Anderson's portrayal of Medea and with Katharine Cornell. Brando portrayed Stanley with an overt sexuality combined with a boyish vulnerability that made his portrait of Stanley and especially the moment where he howls "Stellllllla!" for his wife, into cultural touchstones.

Uta Hagen's Blanche on the national tour was directed not by Elia Kazan, who had directed the Broadway production, but by Harold Clurman, and it has been reported, both in interviews by Miss Hagen and observations by contemporary critics, that the Clurman-directed interpretation shifted the focus of audience sympathy back to Blanche and away from Stanley (where the Kazan/Brando/Tandy version had located it).
Vivien Leigh in the trailer for A Streetcar Named Desire.

Original Cast

Original London production

The London production, directed by Laurence Oliver, opened in October 12, 1949 and starred Bonar Colleano, Vivien Leigh, and Renee Asherson.


Tallulah Bankhead, whom Williams had in mind when writing the play, starred in a 1956 New York City Center Company production directed by Herbert Machiz. The production, which was staged at the Coconut Grove Playhousemarker in Miamimarker, was not well received and only ran 300 performances.

The first Broadway revival of the play was in 1973. It was produced by the Lincoln Centermarker, at the Vivian Beaumont Theatremarker, and starred Rosemary Harris as Blanche and James Farentino as Stanley.

There was a spring 1988 revival at the Circle in the Square Theatremarker that starred Aidan Quinn opposite Blythe Danner as Blanche and Blood Simple star Frances McDormand as Stella, for which the latter won a Tony.

A highly publicized 1992 revival starred Alec Baldwin as Stanley and Jessica Lange as Blanche and was staged at the Ethel Barrymore Theatremarker, the same theatre the original production was staged in. This production proved so successful that it was filmed for television. It featured Timothy Carhart as Mitch and Amy Madigan as Stella, as well as future Sopranos stars James Gandolfini and Aida Turturro. Gandolfini was Carhart's understudy. Baldwin received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Play, and Lange won the 1992 Theatre World Award. In 2009, the Walnut Street Theatremarker in Philadelphia, where the original pre-Broadway tryout occurred, began a production of the play for its 200th anniversary season.

The most recent Broadway revival was directed by Edward Hall and starred John C. Reilly opposite Natasha Richardson and future Gone Baby Gone star and ensemble cast member Amy Ryan of HBO's critically-acclaimed The Wire

In January 2009, the first African-American production of A Streetcar Named Desire premiered at Pace University, directed by Steven McCasland. The production starred Lisa Lamothe as Blanche, Stephon O'Neal Pettway as Stanley, and Jasmine Clayton as Stella, and featured Sully Lennon as Allan Gray, the ghost of Blanche's dead husband. Benvolio Tomaiuolo assistant directed and stage managed the production.

The Sydney Theatre Company production of A Streetcar Named Desire premiered on 5 September and ran until 17 October 2009. This production, directed by Liv Ullmann, starred Cate Blanchett as Blanche, Joel Edgerton as Stanley, Robin McLeavy as Stella and Tim Richards as Mitch. It is playing at the Kennedy Centermarker in Washington, D.C. and is set to play at the Brooklyn Academy of Musicmarker in New York City.



In 1951, Elia Kazan directed a movie based on the play, and in addition to Leigh winning for Best Actress, both Kim Hunter and Karl Malden won Oscars for their supporting roles. References to Allan Gray's sexual orientation are essentially removed, due to Hays Code restrictions. Instead, the reason for his suicide is changed to a general "weakness".

Pedro Almodovar's 1999 Academy Award-winning film, All About My Mother, features a Spanish-language version of the play being performed by some of the supporting characters. However, some of the film's dialogue is taken from the 1951 film version, not the original stage version.

A Regis College duo of Amy C. Lewis and Julia Blauvelt produced a short parody film starring the character of Blanche Dubois in her own reality TV Show. The short is called "Living with Blanche." The events in the film take place after the orginal play and take a more modern approach to her life. The entire movie, which is 40 minutes long, was an improvision made from notes scribbled on a single sheet of paper. Blauvelt starred in the film and Lewis directed and did the cinematography. Lewis while filming also voiced the unseen "Camera Lady" and provided Blanche with a "friend." The short was to be put of but it never made it. A sequel was also in talks but nothing materialized from the notes.

Opera and ballet

In 1995, an opera was adapted and composed by André Previn with a libretto by Philip Littell, after the play by Tennessee Williams had its premiere at the San Francisco Opera during the 1998-99 season. It featured Renée Fleming as Blanche.

A 1952 ballet production, which was staged at Her Majesty's Theatre in Montrealmarker, featured the music of Alex North, who also composed the music for the film version.

Another ballet production was staged by John Neumeier in Frankfurtmarker in 1983. Music included Visions fugitives by Prokofiev and Alfred Schnittke's First Symphony.


In 1955, the television program Omnibus featured Jessica Tandy reviving her original Broadway performance as Blanche, with her husband, Hume Cronyn, as Mitch. It aired only portions of the play that featured the Blanche and Mitch characters.

The multi-Emmy Award-winning 1984 television version featured Ann-Margret as Blanche, Treat Williams as Stanley, Beverly D'Angelo as Stella and Randy Quaid as Mitch. It was directed by John Erman and the teleplay was adapted by Oscar Saul. The music score by composed by Marvin Hamlisch. Ann-Margret, D'Angelo and Quaid were all nominated for Emmy Awards, but none won. However, it did win four Emmys, including one for cinematographer Bill Butler. Ann-Margret won a Golden Globe award for her performance and Treat Williams was nominated for Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie.

A 1995 television version was based on the highly successful Broadway revival that starred Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange. However, only Baldwin and Lange were from the stage production. The TV version added John Goodman as Mitch and Diane Lane as Stella. This production was directed by Glenn Jordan. Baldwin, Lange and Goodman all received Emmy Award nominations. Lange won a Golden Globe award (for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie), while Baldwin was nominated for Best Actor, but did not win.

In 1998, PBS aired a taped version of the opera adaptation that featured the original San Francisco Opera cast. The program received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Classical Music/Dance Program.

The real streetcar named Desire

The Desire Line ran from 1920-48, at the height of Streetcars in New Orleans, along with 15 other lines. The route ran down Bourbon, through the Quarter, up Desire, and back around to Canal. In 1949, the Desire Projectsmarker were built, which became the city's dirtiest and most crime-ridden area. They were finally torn down in 2003, but the area is still somewhat dangerous. There is still a bus route named "Desire."

For many years, until the Riverfront Line was built in 1988 for tourists to ride up and down the French Quartermarker, an original 1920's Perley Thomas streetcar with mechanical problems from the St. Charles Avenue Line sat in the French Market proudly bearing the name "DESIRE" for tourists to stand in front of and photograph. Interestingly, the streetcar route quoted in the play was wrong, but Williams was not a New Orleans native, and had moved to Florida by the time he finished the play.

The St. Charles Avenue Line, established in 1835, is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world, barring interruptions in service every 50 years or so because of hurricane damage.

The Canal St. Line ran from 1871-1964 and was revived in 2004. Discussions of a new streetcar line named Desire come up every few years, although if revived, it would most likely not run on the original route.

A Streetcar Named Success

"A Streetcar Named Success" is an essay by Tennessee Williams about art and the artist's role in society. It is often included in paper editions of A Streetcar Named Desire. A version of this essay first appeared in the New York Times, November 30, 1947, four days before the opening of A Streetcar Named Desire. Another version of this essay, titled "The Catastrophe of Success" is sometimes used as an introduction to The Glass Menagerie.

Awards and nominations

  • 1948 New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play
  • 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

  • 1988 Tony Award for Best Revival


External links

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