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Monday, May 16, 2016

Buddy Beaverhausen's Random Thoughts on the Changing Face of Blanche Dubois

When they decided to make Tennessee Williams' hit Broadway show, A Streetcar Named Desire, into a film, they brought Marlon Brando, Kim Stanley and Karl Malden along but ditched its original Blanche Dubois, Jessica Tandy in favor of a big name at the time. Hollywood decided on Vivien Leigh. I think they wanted audiences to see Blanche as sort of Scarlett O'Hara going mad.

Vivien does a bang-up job as Blanche in the 1951 film and, clearly, is the Blanche most people remember and the one against whom all others will be compared. Elia Kazan, who directed the show on the Broadway stage, also directs the film with style and great dramatic flair.

I saw Streetcar on Broadway in 1982. Jessica Lange was a fabulous Blanche Duboise and put amazing physicality into her performance, especially into her mad scene at the end. She threw herself to the floor and proceeded to crawl around on all fours. It must have been exhausting for her. especially on days when she had a matinee and evening performance to do. Alec Baldwin made a great Stanley and Amy Madigan was equally engaging as Blanche's sister Stella.

Ann-Margret was in a 1984 tv-movie version. While she wasn't half bad as Blanche, Treat Williams was all wrong for the role of Stanley. He just did not have the brute physicality required of the role.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a now-iconic work and a marvel, a masterpiece of American theater. It was withstood the test of time. I'm sure we'll see more revivals in the future. But which actresses today could assay the coveted role of Blanche? And can a musical or operetta be in the works?

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