Last week, I had the privilege of seeing <i>A Streetcar Named Desire</i> on Broadway – a historic play with an updated twist of a predominantly African-American cast. Actress Nicole Ari Parker’s (<i>Soul Food</i>) performance was astonishingly brilliant in the lead role of Blanche Dubois, a fading Southern beauty down on her “luck.” Her command of the language, attitude and pathos of the era transported the audience back to the time in which Tennessee Williams set the dramatic play. It struck me equally, that many of the same themes are contemporary themes that play out in today’s society. One of the main themes that resonated with me was not to let anyone bring you down.
It was my first time seeing “Streetcar,” in any form and so I was surprised to discover that the entire play is about relationships. Blanche’s sister, Stella (played by Daphne Rubin-Vega), is married to a brute of a man, Stanley (Blair Underwood) who is a far cry from Blanche and Stella’s high-society upbringing. As Blanche descends on Stella and Stanley, she is in full-on judgment of her sister’s living conditions. Stanley is “common” and definitely not of the ilk intended for the Dubois sisters.
From the moment she arrives, Blanche begins to tear Stanley apart in private conversations with Stella who had seemingly been content with her life. I’ve seen this scene played out all too often in real life. I’ve often cautioned my sister-friends about letting outsiders into their relationships. As is the case with Blanche, the person throwing stones at your relationship lives in a fragile glass house and is reflecting their own personal drama on you and your relationship. And, more often than not, is jealous of what you have.
Unfortunately for Stella, her sister’s quiet destruction of her relationship isn’t her only problem. Stanley is a bit of a drunken and abusive mess. It’s not just his status in life that is beneath Stella, but also the way in which he treats her. Although I found Blair Underwood’s portrayal too brutish with no sympathetic qualities, I could see how the character is written. Stanley has layers and is trying to do his best to survive his circumstances and too, is not proud of his position in life. And when intoxicated, he takes this out on the person closest to him, Stella.
Both of these familiar plots made me think about how many of my sister-friends have let other people bring them down. Parker’s virtuoso performance reveals how seemingly good intentions can have a bad foundation. She roots her advice for her sister in her care for her well being when in fact there are several ulterior motives at play. You have to be careful from whom you take relationship advice.
On the other hand, most of what Blanche is saying is true. Stella has convinced herself that Stanley’s excessive drinking and abuse is appropriate behavior. She has allowed their clear physical passion to override good judgment. Clearly, his feelings of inferiority and failure lead him to attack Stella and her background. Instead of rising to a higher level, he is intent on bringing her down to his.
I found myself wanting to yell, “Stella!!!” throughout the entire play. I wanted to save her from two people hell-bent on destroying her life. Both of who were in the dark depths of their lives and were in a tug of war to see who could drag her to their level first. It made me feel for all of my sister-friends in similar situations. I just encourage you not to be a Stella and don’t let anyone bring you down.
Wishing you love and ceaseless joy! Follow @NathanHWilliams on Twitter.
Nathan’s book INSPIRATION: Profiles of Black Women Changing Our World is available now.