A cultural twist on a classic play
> Hatiloo gives fresh perspective to Williams’ ‘Streetcar’
Special to The Commercial Appeal
A typical performance of Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire” involves the expectation of a classic American drama, done the traditional way, in front of a traditional audience.
And by “traditional,” I mean “white.”
Hattiloo Theatre, Memphis’ black repertory company, once again must be commended for giving audiences for its current production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” a new cultural perspective on a landmark script. Even if the show leaves the “traditional” folks in the theater a little surprised by the translation, it’s a production that can certainly generate a much needed discussion on how the lens of race and culture opens up a whole new can of interpretation.
Set in New Orleans of the 1940s, it’s a “Streetcar” infused with a post-Katrina attention to color and class lines, though the script hasn’t been reworded at all. Blanche (happily commenting that her name is French for “white”) still insults Stanley by calling him a “Pollack,” to which he replies, irritably, that people from Poland are called Poles.
For many white viewers, “Streetcar” is often seen as something of a nail-biter. Blanche DuBois, a tragic symbol of the fading south, and a nervous, mentally ill hypocrite, comes to live with her sister Stella and Stella’s oafish blue-collar husband Stanley Kowalski. The tension between Blanche and Stanley can typically be cut with a knife.
And yet, Hattiloo’s audience on opening night was the most animated I’ve ever seen at a Tennessee Williams play. Several women gave each other high-fives throughout the performance as if the play