Ageless Southern Belle

Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire is the most poetic play ever written by an American author. Never before has disenchantment and disillusionment seemed as ethereal or lyrical as Williams's Blanche makes it out to be, to dazzling, heartbreaking effect. No other play in the last century or so had been dissected or exhumed as much; no scene left unanalyzed by critics and aficionados alike finding in these lines some extraordinary truths about the human condition. The crumbling terrain of memory, the harsh realities of lower class existence, the squalor and stigma attached to it, and the degradation of physical abuse—all figure prominently and reverberates throughout in the play. Williams, in his most compellingly Chekhovian poetic voice, assigns Stanley, Stella, (but most of all) Blanche with some of the most memorable and powerful lines ever uttered on stage and on screen, Blanche: "I don't want realism. I want magic! I don't tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth! And if that is sinful, let me be damned for it!" These lines have become for the heroine (and for its creator as well) an artistic credo, their own "Vissi d'arte" or "Mild und leise". When Blanche first enters in her déshabille peignoir à la Lucia sans blood, one can be sure that she has the unsuspecting audience completely in her thrall. She need not utter a single word for we know instantly who and what she is. Blanche is not only a slave to a sordid past, nor to Stanley's relentless manipulation and bullying, nor to Mitch's sly deception, but, to a certain extent, she is a slave of fashion. The role is a costume designer's dream. From her first entrance on stage to her polarizing final scenes, one can chart and judge the "states of mind" she's in through mere appearance alone, as we pay close attention not to what her outfits reveal about herself and the suffocating world that conspires to ruin her but to what they conceal underneath: the prim and ladylike Della Robbia-blue woolen suit she wears upon arriving on a dark New Orleans night in the very first scene (movie version); her "luggage" containing fur stoles and an assortment of sequined pieces fit for a cabaret or burlesque star; and one can immediately spot her fragility in the signature Renoir nightgown (made in soft pastel chiffon) she changes into upon arriving at Stella and Stanley's ramshackle of an apartment; the very nightgown she parades around in when, subconsciously, she permits her "brute" of a brother-in-law to peer into her psyche, as though she were giving a private performance in which Stanley participates as voyeur. From there on, as scene after scene of increasing despair and beauty unfurls onstage, we bear witness to the said nightgown's tragic demise: at first delicately disheveled, then turning seedier as the tension between Stanley and Blanche escalates, before we finally see it torn and tattered as madness begins to weave it mesmerizing spell on our defenseless heroine; this look is topped off with a sparkling tiara, as if to crown the nightgown's riveting performance, a triumphant—and "magical"—mad scene all its own. It is hard to think of Mlle. DuBois in anything else other than in her frilly nightgown, which conjures up all kinds of erotic thoughts in me, much too erotic in nature to enumerate each one of those thoughts on here without violating OC's PG-13 rating.
One wonders: had André Previn created a more memorable opera and cast a more compelling soprano in the role, might Blanche, the operatic heroine, be deemed worthy to be spoken of in the same breath as Violetta, Butterfly, Manon, Isolde, Gioconda, and Salome? Would the immortal words of Tennessee Williams acquire more pathos had Previn concocted, say, a Puccini-style score? Just think of the beauty these lines would further acquire had they been set to great music: "Deliberate cruelty is unforgivable, and the one thing of which I have never, ever been guilty of. . . I can't stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action. . . I know I fib a good deal. After all, a woman's charm is 50% illusion. . . Straight? What's '"straight'"? A line can be straight, or a street. But the heart of a human being?"