Farewell to Southern belles

13th May 2005 at 01:00
The human condition is laid bare in Tennessee Williams's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. Timothy Ramsden reports

A Streetcar Named Desire By Tennessee Williams Clwyd Theatr Cymru (Emlyn Williams Theatre), Mold, until May 21 Tel: 0845 330 3565 www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk

This is a play which, director Nikolai Foster says, carries a lot of baggage from the 1951 film starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando. Foster is approaching it like a new play. He has cast the central roles at the ages Tennessee Williams intended. Blanche DuBois, the Southern belle newly arrived in downtown New Orleans, and her brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, are played as around 30; the link between them, Stella (Blanche's sister and Stanley's wife), as 25.

"These are people embarking on life, trying to get through in turbulent times. This is part of Tennessee Williams's tragedy; it is not about people in mid-life who know enough to survive."

Foster says the play is concerned with masculine and feminine identities - something blurred in a modern age where magazines offer makeovers - and with the romanticism of the past, "the death of something wonderful, the Southern aristocracy".

The two sisters deal with it in different, equally valid ways: "Stella by fleeing as a means of survival. She is a feisty, strong, modern woman who knows her own mind. She wants to bring peace, and senses Blanche is at a delicate, dangerous stage in her life."

Blanche, who is extremely intelligent, imaginative and sensitive, with an artist's creativity, stayed on in the South as long as she could.

Foster sees the play in terms of a Greek tragedy, propelled by Blanche's involvement with the death of a boy when she was 16. "We know from the beginning Blanche is doomed, despite moments we think she will escape."

Foster points to place names - Cemeteries, Elysian Fields, "a lot of talk of death" and flame images: Blanche first meets Stanley's friend Mitch over lighting a cigarette. Her nemesis is Stanley, who "represents the birth of popular culture, the polar opposite of what Blanche represents".

The sexual attraction mixed with his hatred has something of the "beat 'em or join 'em" about it. Before their sex (possibly rape) scene, Stanley had given her a one-way bus ticket to leave; without the sexual contact she would have gone. Instead, "sex plunges her deeper into her own psychology".

Blanche is not mad but damaged by unfortunate circumstances.

Foster answers the charge that Blanche tries to trick Mitch into marriage without revealing her past, by claiming: "She would open the repressed Mitch into a beautiful, compassionate relationship, if he had the courage and strength to forget about his mother. It is a play about loneliness and humanity. A beautiful study of the human condition." In facing up to the positive or negative, it gives all its characters redeeming features.

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