A Streetcar Named Desire

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the UT Department of Theatre and Dance | Daily Texan Staff

For theatre graduate student and director Jess Hutchinson, Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” is about what it means to know another person. Although the play is performed and dissected time after time in American theater, Hutchinson and her actors hope to reach their audience on a personal level.

The UT Department of Theatre & Dance will host “A Streetcar Named Desire” in the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre from Oct. 10 to Oct. 19. The play examines the relationship between aging widow Blanche DuBois, her sister Stella and her brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, as she visits their home in 1947. Since its first production, the play has become a classic in popular culture, garnering the most attention after the 1951 movie adaptation starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando.

Hutchinson decided to direct “A Streetcar Named Desire” for her MFA thesis production in part because of its level of familiarity and iconic status.

“We’re around this play quite a bit as we study theater,” Hutchinson said. “I think one of the reasons is because it’s a great play. There’s a reason this play is a major part of the canon.”

Production members spent hours interpreting the text during the first week of the semester.

“We spent about a week around the table just unpacking the script and talking about it,” Hutchinson said. “We use everything we discover around the table and through really analyzing the script to start putting the play on its feet.”

Acting sophomore Keith Machekanyanga, who plays the lead role of Stanley, said the table reading was a great way to connect with the other actors.

“When it came to rehearsal, it was awesome,” Machekanyanga said. “Hearing everybody’s intelligence, everybody’s creativity and realizing how smart everyone was, I was like, ‘This is going to be awesome.’”

During the table work, the actors found that Williams’ play was a great showcase of their abilities.

“The depth of the script was any actor’s dream to do,” Machekanyanga said. “There’s still some stuff that we haven’t uncovered yet, and that’s what makes it so enticing. We’ve memorized the entire play; we’ve ran through it several times, but there’s still more.”

Both Hutchinson and Machekanyanga avoided watching any film adaptations in order to make the performance their own.

“I’ve never seen [the 1951 film] before I started thinking about doing this play, and I made a conscious decision not to see that movie,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve been trying to really collaborate with the author and working with [his] words, as opposed to someone else’s interpretation.”

Hutchinson said the rehearsal process was made easier and more enjoyable because of her cast members’ work ethics. 

“I’m really lucky in my cast,” Hutchinson said. “They’re phenomenal; they’re 12 undergraduate actors, who are working so hard and are bringing such heart and intelligence and really thoughtful work.”

Hutchinson ultimately hopes that audiences will understand the many themes of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

“I hope they go on the ride with us,” Hutchinson said. “It’s an incredible, emotional journey that Williams crafted.”

After more than two years of compiling elements from an American playwright, the Harry Ransom Center opened its doors Thursday to theater fans, historians and the UT community to observe what defined Tennessee Williams as an artist. The center organized the exhibit “Becoming Tennessee Williams” to celebrate the playwright’s 100th birthday. The exhibit — which displays Williams’ manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and artwork — has five sections: the poorly received play “Battle of Angels,” the creation of “The Glass Menagerie,” themes of masculinity in Williams’ plays, the development of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and the adaptation of his plays to film. Exhibition organizer and curator Charlotte Canning led a gallery tour Thursday for more than 30 people. The exhibit included Marlin Brando’s address book, letters Williams wrote to his lovers, correspondence between Williams and director Elia Kazan and alternate drafts of “The Glass Menagerie.” The section about themes of masculinity exposed how Williams’ plays confounded ideas of gender, said Canning, a theater and dance professor. Another section, which describes the transformation from staged productions to films, shows how Williams confronted larger social issues such as sexuality, racism and censorship. The section also illustrates Williams’ exceptional ability to collaborate with Hollywood directors and producers, Canning said. Kazan adapted “A Streetcar Named Desire” to film, starring Marlin Brando in 1951. His work transformed many people in his own life into characters of his plays, and he transformed daily life into art that different people could relate to. “[Williams] excels at the emotional family dramas that are at the heart of the modern American theater, but moves beyond their psychological realism to add poetic and theatrical elements that give the works greater artistic range and richness,” said UT English professor James Loehlin. The exhibit features more than 250 items from the Ransom Center’s collection to reveal Williams’ process of artistic creation — a process that the center’s website calls revolutionary. The center is one of the primary archives of Williams’ work. “I’m really excited about the exhibit,” said theatre and dance sophomore Christina Robertson. “The plays he wrote are timeless.” “Becoming Tennessee Williams” is available for the public to view at the Ransom Center from Friday until July 31. The exhibition is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours on Thursday until 7 p.m. It will also be open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.