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.