Set in 1947 in an overcrowded apartment in the sweltering French Quarter of New Orleans, A Streetcar Named Desire is a masterpiece of Modern Drama by one of America's premier playwrights: Tennessee Williams. When the curtain fell on the opening-night performance of Streetcar on December 3, 1947, stunned first-nighters initially sat in silence, then erupted. The applause lasted 30 minutes!
Williams won a Pulitzer Prize for this sordid story of a brutish, oversexed husband named Stanley Kowalski, his long-suffering wife Stella, his emotionally fragile, high-strung sister in law Blanche DuBois, and Blanche's sometime suitor Harold Mitchell.
Director Elia Kazan's 1951 movie, starring Marlon Brando as Stanley, Kim Hunter as Stella, Vivien Leigh as Blanche, and Karl Malden as Harold received 12 Academy Award nominations, with Hunter, Leigh, and Malden winning acting Oscars and Kazan winning the Oscar for best director.
"This play deals with some subject matter that some viewers might find disturbing: rape, sexual promiscuity, domestic violence, alcoholism, etc.," warns long-time RLT artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons, who first directed Streetcar for Raleigh Little Theatre in 1984.
"But," he adds, "I have always felt this play to be powerfully compelling and well worth revisiting. The language is some of the most beautiful and poetic to grace the American theater stage. The characters are certainly some of the most compelling to be placed in head-on-collision."
Fitz-Simons claims, "Streetcar Named Desire, is, perhaps, the greatest drama of the American Stage. Taking place in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the steamy summer and fall [of 1947], Streetcar tells the story of the DuBois sisters, Stella and Blanche (Amy Bossi and Mary Rowland), the last survivors of an aristocratic, impoverished plantation family.
"Stella has found a certain happiness married to the brutish Stanley Kowalski (David McClutchey), while Blanche stayed behind to nurse her parents through their final illnesses, making her way as a schoolteacher. At the rise, Blanche has arrived on Stella's doorstep in the Quarter, having left her home in Laurel under somewhat mysterious circumstances.
"Blanche inhabits a world best viewed under soft, rosy light, inhabited by ladies and gentlemen of a bygone era," Fitz-Simons explains. "Stanley and Stella live in a much more pragmatic world which is held together by a very strong and powerful physical attraction, which Blanche finds repellant.
"For a brief respite, Blanch pins her fragile hopes upon one of Stanley's friends, Harold 'Mitch' Mitchell," (Rob Jenkins). It soon becomes apparent that the vulnerable and fragile Blanche and the bestial and violent Stanley are headed for a head-on collision. The climax of the play is one of the most shattering in the world of the theater."
Set and lighting designer Rick Young, costume designer Vicki Olson, and sound designer Rick LaBach will assist director Haskell Fitz-Simmons in meeting the creative challenges of reinterpreting this landmark drama for contemporary audiences.
"The setting and time frame, as well as the subject matter and themes of this play, [present] grave challenges to director, actors, and designers alike," says Fitz-Simons. "Mr. Williams has created a very specific world in his script. The setting is almost epic in its scope.
"The costumes must reflect not only the differences in the characters' backgrounds, but also a believable passage of time during a four-month period. The props department is similarly taxed in the very specific demands Mr. Williams' script places upon them in setting up for each passage of time.
"The actors must steel themselves," Fitz-Simons says, "to portray some of the rawest emotions ever felt on stage. The lights must take us from the evocative world of New Orleans' steamy French Quarter to the fragile extremities of Blanche's somewhat tenuous grasp on reality. The sound department must weave a score made up of the indigenous music of the Quarter and the other sounds that are all part of the environment."
He adds, "The setting consists of the downstairs apartment, and part of the upstairs in a run-down tenement in the French Quarter in the spring, summer, and early fall of 1947. The street-life of this area is as much a part of the setting as is the scenery, requiring a small army of extras who portray a number of colorful denizens of this steamy, seedy world.
"The lighting is broken-up and moody in this world not too comfortable in the glare of full daylight," notes Fitz-Simons. "Most of the action takes place in the evening or late at night. At times, the lighting must reflect [Blanche's] retreat into her own fantasy world.
"The costumes reflect the fashions and world of 1947, post-war America in the steamy world of the quarter. They also reflect the different class structures of the major players," says Haskell Fitz-Simons.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents A Streetcar Named Desire Friday-Saturday, Oct. 11-12, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 13, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, Oct. 16-19 and 23-26, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 20 and 27, at 3 p.m. on the Sutton Main Stage, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh. $13-$19, except $11 students/seniors Oct. 13. 919/821-3111. http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/desire.htm [inactive 7/1/03].