Charlotte Capers, Tennessee Williams, and the Mississippi Premiere of 'A Streetcar Named Desire.' (Critic, Playwright)

By Kolin, Philip C. | The Mississippi Quarterly, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Charlotte Capers, Tennessee Williams, and the Mississippi Premiere of 'A Streetcar Named Desire.' (Critic, Playwright)


Kolin, Philip C., The Mississippi Quarterly


Premiering on December 3, 1947, on Broadway, Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire ran for 855 performances and transformed Marion Brando, Jessica Tandy, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter into stars. Streetcar was the first play to capture all three coveted drama honors--the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Critic's Circle Award, and the Donaldson Award--and brought its Mississippi-born author enormous fame in America and around the globe. The play quickly took the international theatre by storm in a glittering string of national debuts--in Mexico City and in Brussels in December of 1948 and the following year in Amsterdam and in Rome (with sets designed by Franco Zeffirelli) in January; in Athens and in Gothenburg, Sweden (directed by Ingmar Bergman) in March; and in Paris (in Jean Cocteau's adaptation) and in London (directed by Laurence Olivier) in October.(1) Even after Streetcar closed its Broadway run in 1949, two distinguished road companies continued to bring the play to major cities across the United States. Coming to Jackson, Mississippi, in late 1949, the second road company (featuring Ralph Meeker as Stanley and Judith Evelyn as Blanche) premiered Streetcar in Williams's home state on the evening of December 12th at the Jackson City Auditorium. The event merits attention both as a record in the stage history of Williams's play and as a reflection of Mississippi theatre/culture in the late 1940s.

One of Jackson's most literate citizens, Charlotte Capers, reviewed the Mississippi premiere for the December 13, 1949, issue of the Jackson Daily News. An archivist at and later director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Capers was an "occasional columnist" for the Jackson Daily News, the Jackson State Times, and the Delta Review.(2) She was also a close friend and early bibliographer of Eudora Welty and even played the character of Charlotte in Welty's The Ponder Heart at Jackson's Little Theatre? Her review, which follows in its entirety, shines with Capers's homespun wit and literary acumen.

"Streetcar" Players Win Audience Acclaim by Charlotte Capers

As Streetcar has been reviewed over a period of years, won both

Critics and Pulitzer prizes, and played in London and Paris, there

should be no trick to reviewing it. Except that Jackson audiences are

different from audiences in New York, London, and Paris and possibly

even Chicago. And so a bit of amplification from both sides of the

footlights should be in order.

To the query often heard last night in the City Auditorium: "Why

would anyone write a play like that?" one could reply that so good an

authority as Aristotle once said something similar to this: The

function of drama, through exercise of the emotions of fear and pity,

is to act as a catharsis on the human soul. We know this is a

misquote, but it seems to take care of the gist of the thing. Then

one might add: Life sometimes is like that. And further, Mr. Thomas

Lanier (Tennessee) Williams, of Columbus, Mississippi, and New York,

must by now have quite a hunk of folding money as a result which

transferred its hapless passenger to the streetcar called Cemeteries

and deposited her at Elysian Fields.

So we have established, we hope, quite a few good reasons for Mr.

Williams to write a most unpleasant play about the disintegration of

a woman's soul and mind.

Now from the audience side of the footlights, we quite agree that

with death and disaster abounding in the headlines, it seems silly to

pay three dollars and ninety cents to witness more than two hours of

stark tragedy. It seems especially silly to pay anything to witness

anything in the City Auditorium, which had its usual hazards last

night, including heat, poor acoustics, and seats placed at intervals

that would have cramped a midget. …

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