If you know me, you know I am a theater junkie. If money was not involved in this world at all, I would spend my time writing plays and drinking crystal light with vodka. To make up for it, I spend as much of my time in a theater as I can. I can barely participate in my own art form because it’s so expensive, but with a great group of friends and the goal function of Mint, I manage to do ok.
Lately, there has been a rash of “all black” plays. Well, like 4 in 2 years, which is a rash by Broadway standards. Each time one comes out, I debate whether or not to see it. Truthfully, I would rather see more original works from black playwrights hit Bway, but I will take what I can get. So when my friend The Playwright asked me if I wanted to see A Streetcar Named Desire, I jumped at the chance. Nicole Ari Parker isn’t my favorite actress, but the tickets were free, and Blair Underwood doesn’t wear much.
That was enough for me.
Three hours later, I tried to string together meaningful sentences about the play, but I couldn’t. I stared dazed and confused, moved in some internal way that I couldn’t describe. Those scenes have been playing in my head the last week. I am all at once disturbed and elated at the memories and their meaning, but it wasn’t until today that I knew why.
Basically, I am Blanche.
It’s uncanny that a drug-addicted gay man could write something that touches a modern, black woman so well. But hey, Tennessee Williams was from Mississippi and so am I. That counts for something.
If you went to a decent high school, you have read this play. If you haven’t, stop reading this blog and head to the Cliff Notes section of Barnes & Noble now.
Blanche, the ultimate Southern belle, drops in on her lower class sister (Stella) who is married to the most abusive, yet sexiest man of all time (Stanley). Throughout the course of the play, we realize that Blanche has a serious past that she is running from, but in 1940s New Orleans, there’s not many places a woman can go except into the arms of a man. Once Stanley uncovers her past, he takes the only two things she has left: her body and autonomy.
Of course, I am very leery of the good girl/Southern belle/virgin vs. modern/worldly/sexual dichotomy, but it exists. At least within myself.
Like Blanche, I have spent a regrettable amount of time making sure what I had to say and what I thought was feminine and palatable. “Good girls” don’t ask for more money or respect at work. We just purposefully perform poorly so we don’t have to scream I WOULD RATHER SELL CHURROS ON THE SUBWAY THAN WORK HERE! Do good girls delete the numbers of men who leave a lot to be desired? OF COURSE NOT! That would require an uncomfortable “bad girl” conversation or shouting SERIOUSLY?!? WE COULD HANG OUT FOR 1,000 YEARS BEFORE YOU SAID SOMETHING THOUGHT-PROVOKING! Instead, we obsessively fixate on something trivial and purposefully annoy the boy until HE tells us it’s done. Then the good girl breathes the biggest sigh of relief and eats a plate of spaghetti and thanks her lucky stars she got rid of him. It seems so perfectly natural; I’ve seen it my whole life. Women obsessively committing themselves to being frail, flighty, and emotional, just so we don’t have to do what needs to be done. Waiting or manipulating someone to do something that I don’t have the balls to do is par for the course. It’s as natural to me as breathing.
And as I watched A Streetcar Named Desire, I realized that it was also CERTIFIABLY INSANE.