Paul Mescal as Stanley and
Patsy Ferran as Blanche
at the Almeida Theatre, London 2023
Photo by Marc Brenner
060 – A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams
A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the towering masterpieces of American theatre, distinguished for its frank depiction of sexual compulsion, its lyrical language, and its poignant portrait of mental fragility, as well as the bitter clash between two of the greatest dramatic characters – the damaged and defiant Blanche Dubois and the unrestrained masculine power that is Stanley Kowalski.
Streetcar as the play is familiarly known, opened on Broadway in December 1947 with Jessica Tandy as Blanche, and a virtual unknown at the time, Marlon Brando, as Stanley. The first UK production was in October 1949, directed by Laurence Olivier and starring his wife Vivien Leigh as Blanche, who would of course go on to reprise the role with Brando in the famous 1951 film.
The play has been revived many times on stage and on the small screen, attracting renowned actors to its lead roles. A new production at the Almeida theatre in London, directed by Rebecca Frecknall, with Patsy Ferran as Blanche and Paul Mescal as Stanley, opened to rave reviews at the end of last year, and its transfer to the West End this month is already sold out.
I’m delighted to be able to devote an episode of the podcast to this giant of a play, and privileged to be joined by an expert of Tennessee Williams, Professor Thomas Keith. Professor Keith has edited more than twenty of Williams’s titles for New Directions Publishing over the past two decades. He is also the co-editor of The Letters of Tennessee Williams and James Laughlin, and the resident dramaturge at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival. He teaches acting and theatre at Pace University in New York.
Professor Thomas Keith teaches theater and acting at Pace University in New York.
He is a consulting editor for New Directions Publishing where he has edited the Tennessee Williams titles since 2002, and is the scholarly editor for three volumes of Williams plays, A House Not Meant to Stand, Now the Cats with Jeweled Claws, and The Magic Tower & Other One-Act Plays.
Co-editor of The Letters of Tennessee Williams and James Laughlin, Thomas edited Love, Christopher Street—LGBTQ essays about New York City—and his writing has appeared in American Theater Magazine, Gay & Lesbian Review, and Studies in Scottish Literature.
Thomas has served as dramaturge for the Sundance Institute Theater Lab, La MaMa E.T.C., Mabou Mines, and the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival.
Thomas recommended Clyde’s by Lynn Nottage, and Downstate by Bruce Norris.
The Footnotes to our episode on A Streetcar Named Desire include more on the autobiographic sources for the play, observations on the character of Blanche’s young gay husband, and on the social context in the time the play was written.
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Photo by Helen Murray.
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