Stanley Kowalski stands at one end of the spectrum, Blanche Dubois at the other. And in the middle is Stanley’s wife, Stella, who is Blanche’s sister.
“She’s the one they’re fighting over, and, in that way, they’re fighting over the audience, because Stella is a part of our humanity,” says Jason Breaux, director of Independence Park Theatre’s production of Tennessee Williams’ classic drama, “A Streercar Named Desire,” which opens Thursday, Aug. 13. Though the theater doesn’t have an acting company, it stages at least one inhouse production a year, giving local actors a chance to take the stage.
“We’re trying to get people vested and interested in Independence Park Theatre — we’re not just a rental house,” says Breaux, who is technical director and theater coordinator at Independence Park, which usually stages touring productions. “And we have so much amazing talent here. You’ll see some names that you’ll recognize from places like Theatre Baton Rouge in this production, and you’ll see some new names. We also have some great volunteers who help us with the sets, lighting and costumes.”
Breaux had a two-fold reason for choosing “Streetcar” for Independence Park’s summer production. First, it’s a play with which theatergoers are familiar.
“Then there’s the fact that it’s our play,” Breaux says. “It takes place in New Orleans, but this is a Louisiana play. Its themes and story elements are still going on today. It’s interesting to look at how far we’ve come, yet these things are still in our culture.”
Williams’ play premiered in 1947 on Broadway starring Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy in the lead roles of Stanley and Blanche. Vivian Leigh, best known for her performance as Scarlett O’Hara in the “Gone With the Wind,” was brought in from the London production of Williams’ play to portray Blanche in the 1951 film. Leigh would win an Academy Award for that performance. Brando also would receive an Oscar nomination for the reprisal of his role, which peaks with Stanley’s remorseful howl for Stella, who ran upstairs after Stanley hits her.
It’s one of the most famous balcony scenes in theater, second only to that in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
The story opens with Blanche, who comes to the Vieux Carre to live with Stella after losing the family farm, Belle Reve, to creditors. That’s when Blanche meets Stanley, a crass, blue collar worker. Their clash of personalities is immediate and ends with a violent act that will leave audience members questioning who is good and who is bad.
“But you have to understand that there are no good guys or bad guys in this story,” Breaux says. “These people are who they are. What’s not touched upon is that two of the main characters — Stanley and Mitch — are just two years out of World War II. They are probably both deeply traumatized, and they’re dealing with that.”
And Stanley sometimes deals with his problems through violence.
“Stanley Kowalski is not a villain,” Breaux says. “The audience might question whether he is or not at the end, but there are no heroes or villains in this story. For this time period, New Orleans is the only place this story could have been set. It was a melting pot of all cultures, and they mixed and clashed.”
Then there’s New Orleans, which could be considered a fourth main character from Blanche’s opening line: “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.”
“Those were the streetcar and street names,” Breaux says. “But they also map out Blanche’s fate. Desire to cemeteries, which would be death. Then to Elysian Fields, which would be the thereafter. Only in New Orleans could you write a line like that.”