In April, I had the opportunity to see a live performance of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The Southern Rep theater hosts several performances each month, and thank goodness for the five-minute drive to work when I heard about this showing on NPR. I had read the play for English class in high school and watched the popular Marlon Brando version. It had been so long since I studied the play that although I recalled the basic gist of the story, I had no idea what I was in for!
As Blanche DuBois (played by the exquisite Aimee Hayes) explains in the first scene, “They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and transfer to one called Cemeteries, and ride six blocks and get off at – Elysian Fields!” What better setting for this play than Michalopoulos Studio, located right on Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans! Set in 1947, the studio comes alive within the entrance hall. There was a woman walking around selling the symbolic “flowers for the dead,” a hot tamale stand, cold refreshments (old and new — mint juleps and Abita Ambers alike), and a woman enticing visitors to buy some delicious pralines. I had a prime first row seat in front of the perfectly makeshift stage settings. The natural heat of the studio complemented the summer setting at the start of the play. Sitting so close that you had to move your feet out of the way to avoid being trampled by the lively performers, it was easy to get lost in the story.
The themes are many and deep in Streetcar: lost youth, death, sex, reality, fantasy, truth, lies, love, brutality, alcoholism, the post-war roles and images of women, and the thin line between sanity and delusion. The highly complex characters of Blanche, Stella, and Stanley were masterfully acted out by Southern Rep’s cast. They evoked a multitude of responses including pity, laughter, and even fear. To fully delve into and understand them all, one would likely need an entire semester of study. For now, reliving the play in the city it was set in is a much welcomed introduction back into the world of fiction that links us to themes that remain very real in our current world.