NPR logo New Year's Greetings (Plus an Introduction)


New Year's Greetings (Plus an Introduction)

Alrighty then. Back from the New Year's holiday. (And man, talk about your characters — there were NPR folks singing karaoke at one party I went to, is all I'm sayin'.)

I'm Trey Graham, from NPR Digital Media, and I'll be co-hosting this In Character blog with Elizabeth Blair.

Y'Are Blanche: Tennessee Williams' Blanche DuBois, played by Patricia Clarkson in a 2004 Kennedy Center staging. Like many of us, she's needy and ruthless and fiercely alive. Photo: Joan Marcus/The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts hide caption

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Photo: Joan Marcus/The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

And since Elizabeth led off the other day with the notion of introduction-by-way-of- favorite-character, I guess I'd better go ahead and confess it: I've got a thing for Tennessee Williams' voracious women.

Gallant, foolish, frantic Amanda Wingfield, destabilizing her family in the name of preserving it; greedy, canny Maggie the Cat; Blanche DuBois, that black widow disguised as a butterfly (about whom you'll hear more later in the series, from NPR's Lynn Neary).

Torrid Torrance: Lady Torrance (Chandler Vinton), awakening to longing in a smoldering production of Orpheus Descending at Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage. Photo: Scott Suchman/Arena Stage hide caption

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Photo: Scott Suchman/Arena Stage

And then there's my very favorite — proud, doomed Lady Torrance, the hungry hothouse flower growing in the bitter small-town earth of Orpheus Descending. (She, of all of them, comes closest to knowing happiness, which is maybe why I fall hardest for her.)

Inevitable, maybe, my attraction to these women: I grew up in the South. And in my other life, I'm a theater critic, so I've spent plenty of time in their company.

I like 'em because — never mind the manners and the moonlight-and-magnolias language — they're such fierce creatures. They're so determined, never mind what fate throws at them; they cling so desperately to their dreams, their desires.

("Desire is the opposite of death," says Blanche, in one of Williams' humid passages, and I've seen enough Blanches by now to know that when she says "desire" she means "ravening hunger for life.")

In that voraciousness, Williams' women are these monumental feminine personifications of the id — like Cookie Monster, they don't always see much beyond the next appetite, the next manipulation, the next immediate gratification.

And in that, too, they're quintessentially American: The long view isn't always our national long suit. Williams' women, with their surfaces and their schemes and their sad, sordid endings, may just have something to teach us about how to treat — or how not to treat — our neighbors. And ourselves.