Williams A Streetcar Named Desire US 1st printing with opening night Playbill and curtain card Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia November 17, 1947 title page and By Tennessee Williams
Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III, born in 1911 passed away in 1983, leaving behind a string of successful plays that was his legacy. A Streetcar Named Desire remains one of my favourite literary text, and indeed, its popularity in the literary world still stays relevant, being the most intriguing and the most frequently analysed of Williams’ plays. Written by the American playwright and opened in 1947 on Broadway, the play faced critical success over the many years it has been performed. Although the play earned Williams the Pulitzer Prize for Drama just a year later, he still probably had no idea that till this day, A Streetcar Named Desire would be considered one of the finest plays of the 20th Century.
On opening night, the play stunned the audience with its daring depiction of sexual brutality and ended with a 30-minute long eruption of applause that turned Marlon Brando into the star he is known for today, and earned Tandy a Tony award. Unsurprisingly, the play, with its original cast and directors, ran for 800 more shows and shortly after, was adapted into a movie. In total, A Streetcar Named Desire received 12 Oscar Nominations. With all the accolades the play has received over the years, it shouldn’t be shocking that this play has been revived and adapted several times for a wide range of different audiences, from a gender-bent version called Belle Reprieve to a Scottish ballet.
One of the biggest reasons behind the play’s success is probably Williams’ bold portrayal of the animalistic nature of the society of Streetcar, and it’s raw exploration of sexuality. Along with such vivid themes, including the clash of truths and lies, (that we will, in time to come discuss at great length) running concurrently in the play, the audience of the 1940s are also forced to face the reality of their decaying society, making room for changes after the war. This spoke personally to the audience who was still recovering from the recent war and hence was also searching for their identity. Streetcar, therefore, makes a bold statement between the struggles that an individual faces and the suffocation presented by a society that itself is attempting to adapt to the post-war situation.
With how rich the play is, we can only hope to scratch the tip of the ice berg so as we delve into the streets of New Orleans, it goes without saying that there will always be more to discover.