Everything you ever wanted to know about a masterpiece.



Opinionated, revealing, constantly entertaining account of the birth and growth of Tennessee Williams’s most famous play.

In the form we now know it, A Streetcar Named Desire, suggests Staggs (Close Up on Sunset Boulevard, 2002), blends Katherine Anne Porteresque Southern gothic, Samuel Beckettian nihilism and Cole Porterish camp. In a feverish moment, he deems it “a root canal on the soul,” but elsewhere lauds its sexual-comedic moments. Staggs neatly deconstructs the evolution of the genre-hopping play, observing its manic center’s transformation from Blanche Shannon of Chicago to Blanche DuBois of New Orleans, and charting the many changes Williams made to the script over a decade as a result not only of second and third thoughts but also, later, of audience reactions, director Elia Kazan’s suggestions and the meddling of censors and studio executives. The play came to life when, in 1947, a scarcely known actor named Marlon Brando was signed for the part of Stanley Kowalski (who, in earlier drafts of the play, had been first Irish, then Italian). Brando’s performances gave birth to method acting, whose theory, Staggs writes, had been well established but whose practice seems mostly to have consisted of other actors’ imitating Brando’s halting, hulking presentation. Staggs is less enthusiastic about the Blanche of the two-year New York theatrical run, Jessica Tandy, second-guessing Kazan six decades after the fact. (Williams, he writes, wanted Greta Garbo for the role.) Staggs then follows the twists and turns the play took to get to the screen, now with the appropriately disturbed Vivien Leigh as Blanche; it’s an unhappy story, even though the film made Academy Award history: “It was . . . the first time that three actors from the same film won Oscars.” Adds Staggs, after reconstructing a dozen scenes that the censors slashed, that story is also made a little happier by the fact that a director’s cut is now available, giving audiences a chance to get a better sense of Williams’s and Kazan’s intentions—to say nothing of the young Brando’s power.

Everything you ever wanted to know about a masterpiece.

Pub Date: June 14, 2005

ISBN: 0-312-32164-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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