In almost all original production reviews of A Streetcar Named Desire there was a general consensus that Jessica Tandy’s performance of Blanche Dubois stood out from all other performances in the production. It was the incredible nuance that Tandy brought to her performance of Blanche that brought alive the complexity of character that Williams had intended for her. Blanche is traditionally viewed as a relic of the past, an old Southern Belle who constantly attempts to associate herself with the traditions of Southern gentry. She attempts to hide many facets of herself in this play, such as her promiscuity, her age, her weight, and, most of all, her past. It is her inability to confront the reality of her true self that leads her to ultimately become a victim of the patriarchy and of a rapidly changing society.
One reviewer of an original production commented that Blanche is an example of the “feminist cunning,” thereby foreshadowing future discussion of whether Williams was making a feminist argument through his writing of this play. Women like Blanche are living their lives, inhibited, while men like Stanley are living without inhibitions. Women like Stella must continue to live under the patriarchy, because they intrinsically rely on it, both for financial and sexual purposes. Williams is, therefore, arguing that women in Post World War II society were trapped by the patriarchy.
The role of women in American society has shifted greatly since the mid-20th century. Women are much more financially independent now, and there is even a movement towards equal pay for equal work. Women in our modern age widely view themselves as social justice warriors and feminists, fighting directly against the patriarchy. There is a common notion among many young feminists today that women do not actually need men in their lives, but instead have the capability of living fully independent of them. Amidst the new social climate of modern feminism, it is interesting to ask many of the same questions that Williams asked about women’s role in society in his writing of Streetcar, the most pivotal of which are: “How strong of an influence does the patriarchy have over women in our society?” and “Is it possible for women today to truly triumph over the patriarchy?” In the original production, Blanche, due to her inability to come to terms with who she truly was as a woman, fell victim to the patriarchy. In my conceptual idea for a production in our modern era, I plan to make the Blanche character similarly disillusioned as the original Blanche, but, instead, have her be disillusioned by her own feminism.
Instead of portraying Blanche as an Old Southern Belle and relic of the past, I plan to portray Blanche as a self-proclaimed feminist in modern society. She may have convinced herself and others that she is a strong woman, who is staunchly against the patriarchy, while, at the same time, remains similarly repressed as the original Blanche was. For example, Blanche in my new production would never willingly discuss her sexual promiscuity, past work in prostitution, and sexual relations with one of her male students, because she desires to project an image of herself as a self-respecting feminist, who relies on men in no capacity. Blanche hides the fact that she bases much of her self-worth on men’s opinion of her under her façade of over-confidence in her abilities as a woman to triumph over the patriarchy. In the original play, Blanche attempts to portray herself as a pure, weak woman in order to attract men. In my version of the play, Blanche may be just as manipulative, using the air of nonchalance that she exudes as a feminist in order to attract men.
While such a rendition of A Streetcar Named Desire would maintain some of the fundamental characteristics of Blanche, such as, her tendency to hide her true self and to live in a prolonged dream-state, it would require some alterations to the premise of the play. Instead of claiming to have left her job as a school teacher due to “nerves,” an overtly feminist Blanche have claimed to have left her job in protest because the school she worked at was not offering her the same pay as it was to male teachers. Perhaps she formerly taught in a small New England town instead of in Laurel, Missisippi. In this scenario, Blanche would still view herself as “superior” to the brutish Stanley and Stella since she is coming from an elite town in the North. Blanche would still undergo culture shock when in New Orleans, but would not delude herself with dreams of the past at her plantation home. Instead, she’d dream of a time when men and women are equal, and women are finally free from the patriarchy. But Blanche would still be constantly deluding herself with these dreams, because, despite whatever dreams she may have, she still remains susceptible to the influence of men.
In the original play, Williams intended to show Blanche’s subconscious desire for attention due to her past suffering. She filled the void in her heart through her excessive drinking and promiscuity. Williams shows Blanche’s insecurities and desire to gain attention from men in order to justify her own self-worth. In my conceptual piece, I believe that Blanche’s insecurities could be portrayed even more powerfully in our modern era if Blanche herself claimed to be a feminist. Her desire to seek attention from men like Stanley and Mitch could be subtly conveyed through changes in costuming as the play progresses. For example, she could be shown wearing more casual clothing at the start of the play, such as jeans and a shirt. But, as the play progresses, she may attempt to look more and more feminine. She may begin to wear short dresses and more makeup, for example, in a subconscious attempt to impress Stanley and Mitch. Perhaps Stella would at some point notice this, and subtly accuse Blanche of attempting to seduce her husband. Blanche may deny this by self-righteously pointing to her feminism that has taught her that the attention of men does not help her prove her self worth.
An integral scene in this play where Blanche could be shown to assert her feminism is in the poker scene. Perhaps in this new rendition of the play, Blanche would actually propose that she play poker with Stanley and his friends, in an effort to attain equality between the sexes. It could be interesting to show Blanche drinking hard liquor here and wearing more masculine clothes (since it is still at the start of the play) in the attempt to “be one of the guys.” This change to the play could highlight the tension between Stanley and Blanche even further, while depicting Blanche’s subconscious desire to impress Stanley. Perhaps it may be Mitch’s and Blanche’s subtle flirtations during this game that anger Stanley, rather than Mitch’s absence from the game as in the original play. This outburst could be what angers Stella and instigates an angry, drunk Stanley to fight.
The violence between Stella and Stanley that ensues during the poker scene could also be staged differently. In the original production, Stella rushed offstage and sounds of Stanley beating her were heard. In my version of this production, I would show the violence onstage, and even show Blanche attempting to intercept it. Perhaps there could be moments during this onstage fight where it seems that Blanche is just as powerful as Stanley, and that she could actually make punches at him. Such a direct physical confrontation between Stanley and Blanche could highlight the inherent tension that exists between them, while, at the same time, placing emphasis on Blanche’s belief in herself as a feminist hero. In the original production, lighting design was manipulated so that Blanche was shown in the light that she wanted to be perceived. For example, dimmer lights were used when she wanted to hide her aging from Mitch. In this version of the play, lighting could similarly be manipulated. In this scene in which Blanche, Stella, and Stanley fighting for example, lights could be dimmed when Stanley strikes Blanche, because Blanche does not want to be perceived as a “weak” woman who can be dominated by men.
Another violent scene that would need to be carefully staged in this rendition of the play would be the rape of Blanche. In the original play, this rape was suggested by showing Stanley’s advances towards Blanche after making the statement, “We’ve had this date from the beginning,” and Blanche is shown sinking to her knees. In a version of this play in which Blanche attempts to highlight her feminism, Blanche could be shown struggling against Stanley, just as she was in the new rendition of the violence during the poker scene described above. As in the original, however, Stanley does ultimately rape her, and the lights can go down once again during this scene, because Blanche would not want to be seen in this state. The only sounds that could be heard once the lights go down should be the sound of two streetcars in the background. These two streetcars can be shown through a transparent screen at the back of the stage. They can be shown as a projection, passing one another. One is clearly labeled “Cemetary” and the other is “Desire.” This passage of streetcars represents the intersection of death and desire that this rape signified. The rape further led to the destruction of Blanche’s sense of self, further challenging her view of herself as a strong woman. Though the rape ultimately leads to Blanche’s destruction, it may also represent the fulfillment of a subconscious desire to gain Stanley’s attention from the very beginning of the play, manifested in its most extreme and brutal form.
The reactions to Stanley’s violence towards women in the play would be taken much more seriously in our modern context than they were in the original play, particularly if this version is making a feminist statement. While Blanche does try to stand up for her sister in the original play, Blanche could even be shown pulling out a cellphone in the attempt to call the police. Stella could be show physically trying to grab the phone from Blanche in order to prevent her from making the call, making Stella’s final decision to stay with Stanley even more powerful. Blanche may use a feminist argument in order to convince Stella to leave Stanley, in place of the argument she makes in the original play about how proper women raised at Belle Reve would not stay with a man like Stanley. Stella may also take Blanche’s accusations towards Stanley for raping her more seriously in the present day. This could even lead to an alternate ending of the play, during which Stella leaves Stanley for what he did to Blanche.
Williams aimed to highlight Blanche’s descent into insanity as the play progressed, an insanity that resulted from her inability to come to terms with her true self, and her reliance on men to give her a remote sense of self worth. In this version of the play, Blanche introduces herself as a feminist who does not need men, while, internally, she desires the approval of men. As a feminist, she may even proclaim that she does not care about her beauty or appearance, but yet she remains insecure about her own appearance, as shown by costume design choices detailed above. Faced with the patriarchal influence Stanley, for example, Blanche’s connection with her true self dissolves just as it does in the original play. Her feminist identity becomes deconstructed as the play progresses, and as she submits to her inner desire for male attention.
Since this play centers around Blanche and her self-perception, the set could be deconstructed between scenes as Blanche’s identity as a feminist figure disintegrates, and as Stella and Stanley’s life together begins to collapse. The set would contain a backdrop, through which the outside world can be seen at certain points in the play with the aid of projections and lighting design. The set could begin with the house at the center, an upstairs apartment, and a realistic environment outside of this house indicates shadows of other houses and shows diverse causal characters milling throughout Elysian Fields. The walls of the apartment at the center could be made of some translucent plastic material, to suggest the ease with which it can be destroyed. Parts of the plastic walls can be shown torn following the violent scene between Stanley, Blanche, and Stella. Ultimately, by the end of this play, the walls would have been completely torn down. As the play progresses and Blanche descends further into her insanity, the causal characters may gradually disappear, as well as other indications on set of the outside world (i.e. other houses and images of the street in the backdrop), because, as an audience, we are now inside of Blanche’s head. The final glimpse of a world outside of the nearly destroyed Kowlaski household that the audience would see would be image in the backdrop of the two streetcars (Desire and Cemetery), as detailed in the description of the scene involving Blanche’s rape above.
At the very end of the play, once Blanche has descended into insanity and has completely lost touch with her sense of self, it could be a powerful deconstructive choice to portray her naked body once she finally reveals to the doctor that she relies on the kindness of strangers. At this point, for the first time in the play, she comes to terms with her true self, and the fact that she relies on men. In showing her body, she finally presents herself as the object of the men that she felt she needed attention from in order to prove her self worth. Thus, her “insanity” brings her closure, and leads her to the ultimate realization that men have dominated her life, despite her attempts to fight against the patriarchy.