Setting the Scene

         Tennessee William's Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire is set in a cramped little apartment in the hot, muggy city of New Orleans. I must admit that I did not look closely enough at the credits of Elia Kazan's 1951 film adaptation to see if the movie was actually filmed on location. Regardless, I thought that Kazan and the set designers did a good job capturing the setting on film. Williams describes a house in the poor section of downtown with both upstairs and downstairs apartments and a set of white stairs going to both. Though the opening scene of the movie differs, when we see Blanche (Vivien Leigh) walk up to the apartment building where Stanley (Marlon Brando) and Stella (Kim Hunter) reside, it is much like I envisioned while reading the play.

         When we actually see inside Stella and Stanley's apartment, it too is much like I had pictured. As this is the setting where most of the action takes place, it is important to get the setting of the apartment right. The small little apartment in the film with a curtain separating the two rooms--the kitchen and the bedroom--is as Williams describes. It looks very much like the kind of environment where a lower-class couple might start out.

         Stella's character in the play and the film does not seem the Martha Stewart type to have things arranged all perfectly. The apartment we see in the movie reflects this. It is not as the dwelling is disgustingly filthy or in total disarray, but there is enough clutter around so that it feels like this couple's apartment.

         All in all, the setting is very important to this play. The city of New Orleans, which as previously mentioned is both hot and muggy, was deliberately chosen to be the place where the story transpires. In a previous essay about this movie, I commented on the numerous allusions to heat and how that symbolizes the desire and passion of these hot-blooded characters. The apartment too, has to feel right. One almost feels a little claustrophobic and confined just watching it. In a story where capturing the essence of the setting is so essential, Kazan's film does a great job in adapting the play.

Kayla Shewcraft

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