Michael Cox: A Streetcar Named Desire is stooped in its New Orleans setting and post-WWII era. Do you think this might be a problem for a modern Scottish audience?
Michael Emans: I think that, although it’s very much set in its time, its themes and its characters and its ideas really resonate an awful lot today, with themes of mental health, with immigration, with race, with cultures, with even human relationships and gender roles. There’s just so much in it that I think it will chime with an audience today. I hope audiences don’t see it as a museum piece—I don’t think they will.
MC: What is it about the work of Tennessee Williams that attracts you as a Director? Is it the language, the plot, the characters…?
ME: Kind of everything, really. I think what’s tremendous is that he’s brought this blend of naturalism and poetry to his work. It’s that wonderful kind of Shakespeareanism with tremendous language and poetry, and it feels very theatrical and so very truthful. I think that’s the challenge of it, and it’s something we’re relishing.
MC: It might be decades old, but it’s still a rich play. It’s very good, but it isn’t easy.
ME: I think that it’s always really good to give the audience a bit of a challenge. It’s not a play that’s very black and white—it’s complex. Not everybody behaves honourably, but not everybody behaves badly. Even Stanley is treated quite badly in some cases within the play. It’s a very rich, complex play, and I think…hope it will challenge people a bit.
MC: This play is something that many people equate to one person: Marlon Brando. Do you find that you have Brando’s legacy hanging over you?
ME: I think given the way we’re going, it’s been easy to forego because we’re going in a different direction, both with the casting choices and concepts. The other thing to consider, I suppose, is the amount of people who are coming to the play fresh. They’ll be seeing our production as their first engagement with the play. So in a way, with more people than you’d think, you’ve got a blank page to work on.
MC: It’s one of those pieces that people think they know until they actually watch it. Right now we’re talking about Brando as Stanley, and yet it’s not his story but Blanche’s.
ME: Well, it is about Blanche. Blanche is the backbone of it—she’s pretty much in every scene. But there are other interesting stories in there too, and I think conveying the narrative and the story development for both Stella and Stanley helps for the narrative of Blanche. And there’s a lovely story with Mitch, too, that I think is quite poignant. The audience may be able to engage with one character more than another, but I think it’s important for every character to have a history and a story within the play. So whether that’s the young collector who comes on or if it’s Blanche, they’ve all got fully formed stories.
MC: You’ve certainly opened up the world of the play with your casting choices.
ME: Well, in the stage directions, Tennessee Williams talks about the mix of people in New Orleans. Different people with different ethnic backgrounds, all mixed together. So what we’ve done is increased that by casting a very eclectic, diverse cast, and it’s shown up some really interesting possibilities within the play.
MC: Were those specific choices you were looking for or did they just make themselves known when you were looking at certain people?
ME: I think it was something we were open to, but ultimately it was about getting the best people for the part. That was the overriding thing: to get the best people, regardless of anything else. But by opening that possibility up, it’s really borne fruit for us, so it’s been a really interesting process.
© Michael Cox