from the original stage production
Tennessee Williams (screenplay), Oscar Saul (adaptation), Elia Kazan (director) A Streetcar Named Desire / 1951
The death on September 11th, 2002 of actress Kim Hunter sent me back to Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, in which Hunter played Stanley Kowalski's wife Stella in both the 1947 stage production and Elian Kazan's film of 1951.
Some weeks later. The scene is a point of balance between the plays two sections, BLANCHE'S coming and the events leading up to her violent departure. The important values are the ones that characterize BLANCHE: its function is to give her dimension as a character and to suggest the intense inner life which makes her a person of greater magnitude than she appears on the surface.
The rape and its aftermath ends in Blanche's fall and departure. In Act 3 Stella is simply compelled to accept Stanley's version of reality, and he and his poker-playing friends are quite clearly in charge, as he returns to being the rightful "king" of his "domain."
You're simple, straightforward and honest, a bit on the primitive side, I should think.
And throughout the play she devastatingly puts Stanley in his place, as when she hands over the papers detailing the loss of her and her sister's home, Belle Reve:
There are thousands of papers stretching back over hundreds of years affecting Belle Reve, as piece by piece our improvident grandfathers and father and uncles and brothers exchanged the land for their epic fornications—to put it plainly. The four-letter word deprives us of our plantation, till finally all that was left, and Stella can verify that, (Moves to him, carrying papers) was the house itself and about twenty acres of
ground, including a graveyard to which now all but Stella and I have retreated. (Pulling papers out of envelope, dumping them into his hands on table. Holds empty envelope.) Here they all are, all papers! I hereby endow you with them! Take them, peruse them—commit them to memory, even! I think its wonderfully fitting that Belle Reve should finally be this bunch of old papers in your big, capable hands.
For the most part, however, Blanche is not as realistically combative or even insanely abstracted as she is simply witty. Like a campy gay man of the old school dressed in drag (is it any wonder that she demands the lights are left low?), Blanche is a ridiculously humorous figure, and I think we have to admit that ridiculousness, accepting the comic elements of the entire play, if we want to understand Williams' characters. Even simply addressing her sister, Blanche is a "hoot" who would be at home in any gay bar of an earlier generation:
Stella, oh Stella, Stella! Stella for Star! ...But don't you look at me,
Stella, no, no, no, not till later, not till I've bathed and rested! And
turn that over-light off! I won't be looked at in this merciless glare!
Along with dozens of such lines ("Never, never, never in my worst dreams could I picture—
Only Poe! Only Mr. Edgar Allan Poe—could do justice!," "The blind are leading the blind," and her renowned last line, "Whoever you are—I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers"), Blanche's dialogue belongs more to the world of melodrama and camp epics peopled with the likes of Lana Turner and Charles Ludlam than the world of a former beauty from the South. Williams points this up even more dramatically by portraying her husband—a nervous, soft, tender boy—as having been gay (which in the film is almost erased) and revealing that, although she poses as a virginal beauty, Blanche is well known back in her home community of Laurel, Mississippi for her sexual excesses, including bedding down with one of her own 17-year-old students. If Jessica Tandy or Vivien Leigh hadn't so brilliantly defined the role of Blanche, Ludlam might later have been an appropriate choice.
Unlike Kazan's film, where, upon her horrific realization that Blanche is now insane, Stella turns on Stanley, rushing up the neighbor's staircase to escape her bestial lover (a second—and I have always felt a permanent—ascension of the star to its natural habitat), in the script, Stella stays in the arms of her husband below, while he, for one of the few times in the drama, attempts to comfort her:
Now, honey. Now, love. Now, now, love. Now, now love. Now, love....
In that gentle reiteration of the present, we realize that Stanley has perhaps changed ever so slightly. The past is over, a new world possible, a world determined by love.
Los Angeles, April 9, 2009
Revised, April 10, 2009