On a May evening in New Orleans, Blanche DuBois arrives at the decaying apartment that her sister, Stella, shares with her domineering husband, Stanley Kowalski. Blanche, whose arrival is unexpected, confides to her sister she is on a leave of absence from her teaching position in Laurel, Louisiana, due to exhaustion. She also tells her that their ancestral home, the mansion Belle Reve, has been lost to creditors.
Devastated, Stella invites her sister to stay. Later, Stanley interrogates Blanche about the repossessed house and questions her trunk of furs and fine dresses. Blanche dodges his questions and even flirts with him, until Stanley stuns her with the news that her sister is pregnant.
At a wild poker game, Blanche meets Stanley’s young, unattached coworker Mitch. The two bond over the story of Mitch’s lost sweetheart. When he delays returning to the game, Stanley erupts in fury, hitting Stella. The two sisters escape to the upstairs neighbor’s apartment, but Stanley bays his wife’s name in the street until she returns.
While preparing for a date with Mitch, Blanche seductively kisses a newspaper boy who has come to collect payment. After dinner, Blanche tells Mitch about her husband, who committed suicide when she caught him with a man and confronted him with disgust. Mitch vows to take care of her.
On Blanche’s birthday, Stella plans a small dinner that includes Mitch. But while Blanche takes a bath, Stanley reveals to Stella that Blanche was run out of Laurel because she seduced a student and, after being fired, became promiscuous. Stanley has told Mitch what he’s found out, but Stella begs him not to tell Blanche he did so. Mitch never shows up. During dinner, Stanley’s temper flares, and Blanche suspects something has happened. She tries to call Mitch just as Stella goes into labor.
While Blanche waits for news from the hospital, Mitch arrives drunk. He confronts her with what Stanley told him. Blanche pleads forgiveness, but Mitch tells her that while he wants to sleep with her, he no longer wants to marry her. He leaves. Some hours later, Stanley arrives with the news that Stella has delivered a baby boy. Blanche claims Mitch has asked for her back, but that she has decided instead to go on a cruise with a wealthy benefactor who, she says, invited her with a telegram. The showdown that has been brewing between Blanche and Stanley finally bursts forth.
Weeks later, Blanche takes one more, final journey.
e-Luminations: A Streetcar Named Desire
An edited version reprinted from OSF’s 2013 Illuminations, a 64-page guide to the season’s plays. For more information, or to buy the full Illuminations, click here. Members at the Patron level and above and teachers who bring a school groups to OSF receive a free copy of Illuminations.
Streetcar and the Censors
For viewers familiar solely with the popular movie, the original stage version of Streetcar may be a surprise with its more explicit dialogue. In 1947 New York, no official censorship board existed. In London, however, the Lord Chamberlain’s Examiner of Plays sent Tennessee Williams a list of required cuts, some of which were adopted for that sole production.
In Hollywood, Streetcar was subject to voluntary censorship by the Production Code office, led by the infamous Patrick Breen. Ben Vizzard, a Jesuit and one of the staunchest followers of Breen, was assigned to the film. The censors’ more superficial requests included that the film could not refer to astrological signs, that Stanley must slap Stella “on the hip not on the derriere,” and the sisters could not discuss the sex lives of the couple upstairs. More centrally, they stipulated that Blanche’s late husband could not be referred to as a homosexual, an edit that was also required for the British stage. The deepest arguments resulted over what consequences Stanley should face as a result of his final confrontation with Blanche.