On Stage: A New Streetcar


Friday, July 13, 2012

Daphne Rubin-Vega and Blair Underwood in A Streetcar Named Desire Daphne Rubin-Vega and Blair Underwood in A Streetcar Named Desire (Ken Howard)

It isn’t easy to put a fresh spin on A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the most acclaimed plays in American theatre, with its caricatured Brando scream of “Stella!” A new production on Broadway aims to shake things up, putting black and Latino actors in the lead roles.

The idea of “colorblind” casting is a couple of generations old now, but it faces particular challenges in a play where the central conflict is between an uppercrust French plantation daughter and a Polish-American roughneck. But director Emily Mann refutes the idea that the casting is a gimmick. She points to a key line in Tennessee Williams’ play as a clue: “‘My American ancestors were French Huguenot,’ that’s the line. And so if you say it as, ‘My American ancestors were French Huguenot,’ the others were African.” The white ethnicities, she thinks, aren’t key to the drama. “How we made historical sense of the different culture between Stanley and the Dubois sisters,” Mann explains, “is that he’s a dark-skinned man with a very fair-skinned wife, who comes from the plantation houses of yore.”

The actress Carol Sutton appeared in an all-Black production of Streetcar in New Orleans years ago. She thinks Williams’ work easily adapts to the Black community because all his characters can be found there. “People who were rich and then lost their fortune. People who go crazy. People who are ne’er do well, and just mean people like Stanley.” Even Blanche and Stella, could be the descendants of slave-owning families. “In Louisiana, black people had slaves! A lot of Tennessee’s plays translate very well to other cultures.”

Philosopher Cornel West goes even farther, asserting that Williams’ plays are imbued with African-American culture. “The blues is a compassionate response to catastrophe — it can be in song, or it can be in a Tennessee Williams play. Catastrophe is a constant companion of the major protagonists of every play by Tennessee Williams. It’s no accident that Tennessee Williams and others incorporate a blues idiom in their understanding of America,” West explains. “The blues is the creation of a Black peoples on the underside of a romantic project called the USA.” And Williams himself, West says, “is my soul brother. He’s a white literary bluesman of the highest order.”


Video: a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire

    Music Playlist
  1. Four Deuces
    Artist: Alex North
    Album: The Bad Seed/The Misfits/Viva Zapata!/A Streetcar Named Desire/Spartacus
    Label: Nonesuch
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. A Streetcar Named Desire Broadway 2012 Score
    Artist: Terence Blanchard
  3. Blanche
    Artist: Alex North
    Album: The Bad Seed/The Misfits/Viva Zapata!/A Streetcar Named Desire/Spartacus
    Label: Nonesuch
    Purchase: Amazon

Produced by:

Paul VanDeCarr

Comments [2]

Andy from Pescadero, CA

'Streetcar' is a beautiful play, and I'd genuinely love to see this production, but I'd also really like to be able to unhear all the bullshit Cornel West had to say about both of them. He's a fount of reductive howlers masquerading as epigrammatic zingers--how is 'Mannish Boy' a compassionate response to Catastrophe?

Jul. 20 2012 01:52 AM
Damon from Bronx, NY

This is an excellent piece about Streetcar!

It is well written, but moreover the podcast is quite amazing,
as it weaves in and out from background music, to first hand,
to conversation etc and does it all in a mere 7min 35sec!

Mr. VanDeCarr's production gives a great new (re)view of this
new/current theatrical interpretation. There is great clarity
in the production and stylization in his review with tonal and
objective viewpoints.

One of my favorite moments is when it goes from his speaking
and paraphrasing to the actual interview recording with woman
who speaks about Black had slaves too in Louisiana.

As a person who also works with sound maybe that's why I was
so keen and just enjoyed listening to this and it's warmth and
realness throughout.

Congrats Studio 360 and Mr. VanDeCarr on a well done piece of work.

Jul. 14 2012 10:41 PM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.