Hi there! My name is Josh Altman and I’m the assistant director for Writers’ Theatre’s upcoming production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Every week I’ll post an entry to the Writers’ Theatre blog, sharing my insights on the process, letting you know what we’ve been up to in the rehearsal room and design meetings, and how we’re approaching this challenging and thrilling text.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams is one of the greatest, most-revered plays in the American theatrical canon. One of Williams’ earlier works (and his first Pulitzer prize), this play is full of fascinating relationships, uniquely crafted characters, bright comedy and painful tragedy.
This play has been put into the hands of one of America’s most exciting directors: David Cromer. Cromer is known for creating exciting, deeply honest and moving productions that cut to the core of the play and reveal its insides. This production is sure to do no less.
One of my favorite things about Writers’ is how they choose these mammoth plays and present them in one of their two extremely intimate spaces. The action of the play happens, literally, right in front of you. You can feel it.
Needless to say, it’s an exciting rehearsal room to be in. Some wonderful artists—some who have collaborated before and some meeting for the first time—have all started to come together and bring this production to fruition.
At the first rehearsal, Cromer addressed the company about the power of Williams’ texts:
“We go from the everyday, the practical, to the poetic, the lyrical. The practical leads us to the high poetry, high tragedy.” This really is a gift that Williams gives us. His language is so beautiful and so powerful, that if we just climb the rungs of the ladder he has built for us, it will guide us to these powerful poetic moments.
Cromer also discussed “the body and the spirit” and how they feed and combat one another. We’ve been exploring the “ecstatic connection” that Stanley and Stella have through their bodies and how that informs their spiritual connection—and how the body and spirit connect in all our relationships.
Over the past week, we’ve been exploring the first act of the play. We read a scene, we talk about a scene, we do it on its feet, and then we continue this process. As we chug along, we learn more about each character and the play as a whole. The beginning of this rehearsal process is so exciting because, even though we are all so familiar with the play, we are learning so much about it (and from it) as we let it play out.
What’s so exciting about watching Cromer work with these actors is how he astutely breaks down the action of the scene. When we pause to discuss, we are simply discussing what is happening to characters and, most importantly, what is going on between the two characters. How they feel about one another, what they want, and how what’s happened before informs what’s happening right now in the play.
Another thing that we’ve found in this first act is how often characters have stops and starts and false starts in their dialogue, especially with Blanche and Stella who have several meaty scenes in this first act. These two sisters often have fundamental moral differences on various issues. Even in their first scene, there are little “cracks” that develop, forcing the characters to take a new tactic in their effort to connect. It will be exciting to see how these discoveries inform our work on the next two acts of the play.
Oh, and we’ve also been playin’ some poker. Scene Three is titled “The Poker Night” (also the title of an early draft of the play). Stan, Mitch, Steve and Pablo have a very long night of poker playing so we’ve been having some fun practicing five card draw, seven card stud and getting the game to match up perfectly with the script.
I’ll leave you this week with a little information on the physical environment of the play. Tudor Court has been reconfigured and there will be seating all around the set. Cromer and set designer Collette Pollard are going to make us to feel like we are sitting in Stella and Stanley’s apartment with these characters. We will be so close to the action, and each angle will provide a completely different perspective on the experience.
Check back in soon to find out what we’re up to!