'Streetcar' at home on China stage

Updated 2017-04-06 10:30:40 China Daily
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A Streetcar Named Desire, produced by Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, features (from left) Wen Xiaowei, Gong Xiao, Zhang Lu and Guo Lin. Provided To China Daily

Wang Huan believed that since many women choose to stay single in China, the story of Blanche Dubois would find more resonance today. So he decided to stage the American play A Streetcar Named Desire in Chinese.

The production of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center had 12 successful shows in Shanghai last year. This year, with a new cast, the play will go on tour in China, starting with five shows at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing beginning on April 25.

The play will go on to venues in Shanghai and then Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, before finishing the tour in Chongqing by the end of May.

Wang was the first Chinese to graduate with a master's degree in theater direction from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in Britain. He has worked at the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and Young Vic Theatre in the United Kingdom, as well as China's National Center for the Performing Arts.

Also a successful stage-design artist, he has won a series of national prizes for his sets for events such as the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

“I am intrigued by the fate of ordinary people,” Wang says, explaining why he decided to stage Streetcar.

The time and society in Tennessee Williams' writing has much in common with today's China, he says. “We are standing at a turning point, when old social rules are declining and new commercial civilization is in the making.

”In Streetcar, you find the main characters are migrants, just like in China today - many people leave their hometown to build a new life in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.“

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Among the urban dwellers in China are many women with good educations and cultural sensitivity, just like Blanche, the lead character in Streetcar.

Williams' play was written in 1947, and has become recognized as a modern classic of American literature. In the play Blanche, a former schoolteacher of English, moves in with her younger married sister, Stella, after losing their family home.

Blanche finds Stella's working-class husband, Stanley, loud and rough, while in return Stanley dislikes his sister-in-law. Yet Blanche stays on, and makes friends with Stanley's poker-game pal Mitch.

But the conflict between Blanche and Stanley escalates, as he digs out her scandalous history. The antagonism comes to a climax when Stanley rapes Blanche, leading to her psychotic crisis. Stella, who has just had a new baby, decides to live on with Stanley, and has Blanche sent away to a mental asylum.

One of the most famous plays of the 20th century, Streetcar was made into a movie in 1951, with Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando creating two of the most iconic figures in film history.

Wang found all the major characters in Streetcar to be misfits and insecure, just like many of the people in China now. To help audiences relate to the story and characters, he intentionally blurs the American background, and focuses on the fate and encounter of the characters.

Widely recognized as a theater classic, Streetcar has grown out of the rich soil of the realistic theater tradition in Europe, and ”made a big step forward“, resulting in extreme situations and multifaceted characters, says Wang.

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