At the Plymouth
"It's a Barnum and Bailey World, Just as phony as it can be--
But it wouldn't be make-believe If you believed in me!"
These are snatches of a tune that Uta Hagen, as Blanche DuBois, sings near the end of "A Streetcar Named Desire." In the hands of author Tennessee Williams, the lines are more than part of a song. They contain the despairing Blanche's philosophy, and as such they are the theme of one of the most moving tragedies of the theater today.
Blanche DuBois is a school teacher who comes to spend the summer with her sister Stella in New Orleans. She is shocked at the meanness of Stella's home, and the vulgarity of Stella's Polish husband. She calls herself a gentlewoman, and passes as one. Slowly, however, her pretence is discovered. In the glare of a naked electric light bulb, Blanche DuBois is forced to admit that she does not tell the truth, "but what ought to be the truth."
If Blanche were no more than a sham, the play would have no meaning. But Tennessee Williams' sensitive writing, and Uta Hagen's compassionate performance show Blanche as the wreckage of a "lady," a woman clutching at the past. It is this that makes the tragedy real and piercing. Miss Hagen's portrayal shows that she not only understands the shaded subtleties of Blanche's character, but has the ability as an actress to make them clear and convincing on the stage.
Anthony Quinn, as Stella's animal-like husband, has a less complex part to play. He mirrors this nature faultlessly in a lumbering gait and heavy voice. His elemental character is complemented by the similar temperament of his wife. Played with calm and comprehending dignity by Mary Walsh, she becomes a genuine human being who can do nothing to help one whom she loves.
Jo Mielziner's set is not "pretty," but neither is the play. He has designed what is the answer to every director's dream--a set which echoes the mood of the play and which, through imaginative lighting, molds itself to the rising action. Elia Kazan's skilled direction has shaped the production into a meaningful, clear-cut picture of desire and despair. A play of the merit of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" is deserving of all the thought and skill that has been lavished on it.