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On Air: Blanche DuBois

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Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando in the film of 'A Streetcar Named Desire.

Fierce creatures: Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski (Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando) in Hollywood's version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images

I love that the streetcar never gets mentioned again. (Unless I'm forgetting something; y'all correct me if I'm wrong.)

It shows up in Blanche's opening lines: "They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields." And that's the last we hear of it.

But oh, how much distance that streetcar travels: Desire, that irrepressible impulse of the living, stops at Cemeteries, and our bruised but indomitable heroine ends up in Elysian Fields. New Orleans landmarks, all of them, but metaphors, too: the Elysian Fields is the resting place of dead heroes in Greek myth, and Blanche DuBois is nothing if not grand enough, mad enough to be a mythical character.

And yes, her struggle — the entire arc of the play — is nothing less than the struggle of individual vitality against universal entropy, which makes it at once magnificent and banal, ordinary and extraordinary. What makes it magic is Tennessee Williams' incomparable language, those purple prose-poems knitting the stuff of life and death together.

In today's installment of In Character, NPR's Lynn Neary asks why Blanche DuBois is such a tantalizing role — and such dazzling actresses as Shirley Knight, Rosemary Harris, Laila Robins and Glenn Close offer answers.




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The 'In Character' series is such a wonderful addition to the NPR line up, very novel and perfect for radio! Has this ever been done before?

When we read characters we imbue them with attributes based upon either our cumulative experiences to that point, or with a perspective tinted by what we might be going through at the time.

Sometimes listening to the series I feel as though I have misunderstood the character or gained additional insights into their behavior. It is a very clever series and one that will inspire members for years. Thank you NPR!

Sent by Sage A. Hoebermann | 10:11 AM | 3-15-2008

One thing that could be added to this great analysis of Blanche is how Almodovar used the Play in his film "All about my mother." In this movie one of the characters is an actress who plays Blanche and the part when the doctor takes her is shown; also, the main role is a woman who had played her too and compares her life with Blanche's.

Sent by Francisco | 4:39 PM | 3-15-2008

I love this series! Its like lit class, but more fun!

Sent by Gainesville | 4:27 PM | 3-17-2008

Actually, you are incorrect in that the streetcar is mentioned three times throughout the play, once in Act 1, Scene 1, again in Act 1, Scene 4 and again Act 2, Scene 2.
Nevertheless, a lovely series, very helpful to stage actors like myself.

Sent by Heidi Hunter | 2:47 PM | 4-22-2008

Right you are -- should've double-checked it myself. (Wrote that post late, late at night, which is why I gave myself that I'm-not-sure out ... )

Looks as though, in both of those subsequent references (you can search the text of this edition at Amazon), it's Blanche being vaguely hysterical about the idea of lust, right? Once right after Stella's famous "things that happen ... in the dark" line, which Blanche finds both vulgar and titillating, and once when Mitch and she are parting ways after a late evening, and the sexual tension is heavy in the air. ("Is that streetcar named Desire still grinding along the tracks at this hour?" she asks, in what's gotta be one of the least veiled doorstep come-ons ever...)

So it's all about her own desire, paired with her fear of its discovery, of scandal -- which would equal death for her. And we know how she feels about death. (Little-d desire is its opposite, she says elsewhere, just before one of the play's critical revelations.)

So in its second and third appearances, the streetcar Desire still trails that opening metaphor behind it. Another reason to love Williams, to admire his craft ...

Sent by Trey Graham | 1:31 PM | 4-23-2008