After the hugely successful UK world premiere tour of A Streetcar Named Desire in 2012, Scottish Ballet will be taking this award winning production to venues across the UK and USA from March – May of this year.
A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1947 award winning play written by American playwright Tennessee Williams and tells the story of Blanche DuBois, an aging Southern debutante, who arrives at her sister’s home in New Orleans hoping to start a new life after losing her home, her job, and her reputation in her hometown of Laurel, Mississippi. Blanche’s brother-in-law, a tough working-class guy named Stanley Kowalski, is so filled with class resentment that he strives to destroy Blanche’s character in New Orleans as well. His cruelty, combined with Blanche’s fragile, insecure personality, leaves her mentally detached from reality by the play’s end.
I have always depended on the kindness of strangers
Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III was born on 26 March 1911, in Columbus, Mississippi, the second child of Cornelius Coffin (1879-1957) and Edwina (Dakin) Williams (1884-1980). He had two siblings, sister Rose Isabel Williams (1909–1996) and brother Walter Dakin Williams (1919–2008). His father, Cornelius Williams, was a shoe salesman and an emotionally absent parent. His mother, Edwina, was the daughter of a Southern Episcopal minister.
When Williams was eight years old his father was promoted to a job at the home office of the International Shoe Company in St. Louis, Missouri. His mother’s constant search for what she considered to be a fitting address, as well as his father’s heavy drinking and unstable behavior resulted in them moving numerous times around the city.
He attended Soldan High School, a setting he referred to in his play The Glass Menagerie and also studied at University City High School. From 1929 to 1931, Williams attended the University of Missouri, in Columbia. His father withdrew him for failing ROTC, (The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) and he took a job at his father’s shoe company. He hated the job but worked at the warehouse by day and wrote late into the night. The strain was too much, and in 1935 Williams had a nervous breakdown. In 1936 he enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis where he wrote the play Me, Vashya. By 1938 he had moved on to University of Iowa where he began going by the name Tennessee, a nickname he’d been given in college thanks to his southern drawl. In the early 40s, Williams moved between several cities for different jobs and playwriting classes, whilst working as a scriptwriter at MGM. In 1944 came the great turning point in his career: The Glass Menagerie. First produced in Chicago to great success, the play transferred to Broadway in 1945 and won the NY Critics Circle Award.
While success freed Williams financially, it also made it difficult for him to write. He went to Mexico to work on a play originally titled The Poker Night. This play eventually became one of his masterpieces, A Streetcar Named Desire.
Famously, The Simpsons also did an episode in which the play was featured. Ned Flanders took the leading role as Stanley and Marge playing Blanche.
Between 1948-1959 seven of his plays were performed on Broadway: Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1951), Camino Real (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Orpheus Descending (1957), Garden District (1958), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959).
By 1959 Williams had earned two Pulitzer Prizes, three New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards, three Donaldson Awards, and a Tony Award.
The 60s brought hard times for Williams, he had become dependent on drugs, and the problem only grew worse after the death of his partner Frank Merlo in 1961. Merlo’s death from lung cancer sent Williams into a deep depression that lasted ten years. On 23 February 1983, Tennessee Williams choked to death on the lid of one of his pill bottles.
For further information on this production, including tour dates see: @scottishballet
To search for additional material on Tennessee Williams and/or Scottish Ballet you can search the Scottish Theatre Archive catalogue or visit us on level 12 of the library.