Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Stella for Star

So I went to see Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire on Sunday afternoon, and I can't stopped thinking about the play. I'm ashamed to say that I think it's the first time I've seen it in its entirety, on stage that is. I've watched scenes from it in acting classes (and acted in one, forgettably) and I remember seeing the movie but it didn't make an impression on me.

It's funny but whenever a theater does one of the "great American theater" plays, I never have any desire to go see them. I'm talking about plays like Streetcar, or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Our Town, etc. It might be because I feel as though I know them already having read them, studied scenes from them, or listened to other people discuss them. But Mr. Williams did not write his plays to be read or to be seen in bits and pieces or just discussed (neither did Mr. Albee or Mr. Wilder for that matter). He wrote his plays to be watched in their entirety on stage. There's a reason A Streetcar Name Desire is part of the theatrical canon and it hit me like a ton of bricks watching the show on Sunday. It's bloody brilliant.

So as I've contemplated the show, I've been thinking about Stella's role in the story. It's so central yet in discussions she gets lost behind Blanche's delusions and Stanley's animalistic behavior. I love how Mr. Williams painted her as a loving, stable wife to Stanley and also as the admiring, adoring younger sister to Blanche.

She truly is the center between these two polar extremes. And both Stanley and Blanche want and perhaps need Stella on their side if they are to survive.

Two lines hit me on Sunday and I've been thinking about them ever since.

The first is said by Stanley while he, Blanche, and Stella are eating dinner. Stella admonishes his eating habits calling him a pig and telling him his manners are disgusting. Stanley erupts stating, "Pig, Polack, disgusting..those kinds of words have been on your tongue and your sister's tongue too much around here..."

I love how this one line shows Stella's descent back into the way she used to be, growing up with Blanche. It describes how she used to act at Belle Reve before she met Stanley. It's so honest falling back into the familial patterns of behavior when a beloved family member is around.

Stanley erupts not only because of the insult but because he is losing the Stella he knows which leads to the second line:
Listen baby, when we first met--you and me--you thought I was common...You
showed me a snapshot of that place, with them columns and I pulled you down off
them columns and you loved it...

And there Stanley states his argument: you love it here with me, don't go back there. I'm sure that when he seduced Stella for the first time it was with an almost violent passion bordering on rape. I say bordering on because Stella probably loved it.

Blanche, however, not so much. And we all know what happens when Stanley and Blanche are left alone.

Perhaps I identify with Stella because she's a younger sister or perhaps it's just because she's the only sane one of the bunch. I'm not sure what it is but I do know that there's nothing like seeing great American theater and having the thoughts, questions, and emotions stay with you long after the curtain comes down.

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