We start with a scene description. Williams is notorious for including lyrical flights of fancy in his stage directions, such as, “You can almost feel the warm breath of the brown river beyond the river warehouses with their faint redolences of bananas and coffee.”
Basically, though, what you need to know is that the play largely takes place in a two-story house on a street in New Orleans called “Elysian Fields.” The house is between the river and some train tracks. It is late May. There are “Negro piano halls” in the neighborhood (Williams calls music from these clubs “blue piano”).
Eunice, a white woman, sits with a black woman (who is referred to only as “the Negro woman”) on the steps of the house. Williams writes that “there is a relatively warm and easy intermingling of races in the old part of town.” You can hear music and voices overlapping.
And, we begin….
Stanley and Mitch, both around 28 or 30 years old, round the corner in their denim work clothes.
Stanley carries his bowling jacket and a package of meat.
They stop at the steps and Stanley roars out, “Hey, there! Stella, Baby!”
His wife Stella comes out to the landing.
She’s about twenty-five, and of a background “obviously quite different from her husband’s.”
Stella tells Stanley not to yell at her.
Stanley yells back, “Meat,” and throws the hunk of beef at her. She catches it and laughs.
Stanley and Mitch are already heading back around the corner. Stella asks where they’re going, and Stanley bellows back, “Bowling!”
Stella says she’ll meet them there, since she wants to watch.
Stella says hi to Eunice, and departs for the bowling alley.
Enter Blanche DuBois, as precious as her name, carrying a valise (i.e., a fancy-schmancy suitcase).
She looks at the address she’s written on a piece of paper, shocked by the house in front of her and the shabby appearance of the neighborhood.
She’s clearly out of place, “daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat,” etc.
She is also five years older than Stella, and, though she’s beautiful, apparently resembles a moth.
Eunice asks if Blanche is lost.
Blanche answers she was supposed to take a streetcar named Desire (that sounds vaguely familiar) to another called Cemeteries, and to get off at Elysian Fields.
Eunice welcomes her to Elysian Fields.
Blanche says she’s looking for her sister, and she accidentally calls Stella by her maiden name, DuBois.
Eunice explains that Blanche isn’t lost (at least, not literally). Eunice has the upstairs apartment, Stella the downstairs. But Stella’s out bowling right now, maybe Blanche would like to go find her?
Blanche would rather wait, so the "Negro Woman" exits to tell Stella her sister has arrived.
We learn that Stella isn’t expecting Blanche (at least, not that night).
Eunice lets Blanche in to Stella’s house, explaining that Stella and Stanley live in the downstairs while she (Eunice) and her husband live in the upstairs.
There are two rooms visible: a kitchen with a folding bed, and a bedroom. Offstage is a bathroom.
Blanche is clearly unimpressed (she can probably tell she’ll get the kitchen bed).
Eunice tries to make conversation, but Blanche just answers her questions with a dismissive “yes.”
We learn that Blanche is a teacher from Mississippi, with a big plantation called Belle Reve (or “Beautiful Dream,” again with the French).
Blanche asks to be left alone. She’s either really rude or really tired, maybe even both.
Eunice leaves, a little bit offended.
Blanche sits down stiffly, but “springs up” when she notices a whiskey bottle in a half-opened closet.
She takes a drink, washes the cup, and sits back down. “I’ve got to keep hold of myself!” she says.
Stella runs around the corner and to the flat, yelling her sister’s name.
“Stella for Star!” Blanche replies, doing a neat little translation for us from the Italian. They hug.
Blanche speaks quickly, looking Stella over. “I thought you would never come back to this horrible place!” she says, and immediately apologizes. She has a way of glossing over rudeness.
Blanche tells Stella to talk, while she pretends to look around for liquor. “Oh, I spy, I spy,” she says, pulling out the whiskey bottle again. We get the feeling she might be a bit of an alcoholic, and possibly a liar.
Blanche asks about Stanley, and Stella says he’s out bowling.
Blanche asks Stella what she’s doing in a place like this. She compares the neighborhood to a story by Edgar Allan Poe. In addition to drinking and lying, she also appears to be a drama queen.
Stella says that it’s not so bad, and that New Orleans isn’t like other cities.
They change the subject, and smile at each other.
Blanche remarks that Stella isn’t even glad to see her, which Stella dismisses.
The conversation moves to why Blanche is here in New Orleans at all.
She explains that her “nerves broke,” that she was “on the verge of – lunacy, almost!” So the superintendent of her school (she was a teacher) asked her to take a leave of absence.
Stella offers her another drink.
Blanche refuses, claiming that one is her limit.
She starts to talk about how they look, calling herself a ruin and Stella a little partridge. It’s faint praise, at best.
She asks if Stella has a maid, but Stella explains that with only two rooms, she doesn’t need one.
Blanche is embarrassed at this relative poverty, and Stella is embarrassed at her sister’s embarrassment. She doesn’t seem to mind her situation at all, just her sister’s reaction to it.
Blanche comments that Stella has plumped up a bit (gained some weight), but that it suits her quite nicely.
Then, Blanche takes one more little drink and compliments herself, claiming that she hasn’t put on an ounce of weight in ten years, since “the summer Dad died and you left us.” (Writers call this exposition, but here it’s more like a punch in the face.)
The girls laugh uncomfortably. (Get used to the uncomfortable vibe.)
Stella shows her sister the collapsible bed in the kitchen, and Blanche expresses concern about the fact that there isn’t a door separating the kitchen from the bedroom.
Stella replies that Stanley is Polish.
Blanche then insults Stanley, saying “They’re [the Polish] something like Irish, aren’t they? […] Only not so – highbrow?”
The girls laugh uncomfortably yet again.
Blanche says she brought some nice clothes to meet Stella’s lovely friends in, but Stella responds that Blanche won’t find them lovely, as they’re Stanley’s friends and not so sophisticated.
Blanche says she’ll wear the clothes anyway, which could possibly lead to more people feeling uncomfortable.
Blanche wants to be near Stella. “I can’t be alone!” she cries. “I’m – not very well.”
They discuss Stanley further; Stella says not to compare him to the boys they dated back at Belle Reve.
We learn that Stanley was a Master Sergeant in the Engineers’ Corps, and that he didn’t know Blanche was coming to visit.
Stella explains that her husband is “on the road a good deal,” and that she “can hardly stand it when he is away for a night” and “cr[ies] on his lap like a baby” when he comes back.
Blanche changes the subject. She spends a long time saying she has something important to say, while the suspense-o-meter rises dramatically.
She reminds Stella that it was her, poor Blanche, who was left alone to tend the family plantation while Stella was off with Stanley.
Then comes Blanche’s kicker: she’s lost Belle Reve, the family plantation.
“They stare at each other across the yellow-checked linoleum of the table” = dramatic pause.
The dramatic “blue piano” music rises.
Blanche positively explodes, yelling at Stella not to accuse her. She was the one who had to deal with “all those deaths”: father, mother, someone named Margaret. And then old Cousin Jessie. Funerals are expensive. All she had was a school-teacher’s salary. And where was Stella? “In bed with your – Polack!” (That takes up about a page… Blanche has a way with words. You might say she’s long-winded.)
Stella goes to wash her face, since it appears she’s started crying.
Blanche asks for forgiveness just as the men are heard arriving back from the bowling alley.
Blanche uncomfortably moves around the room while she waits for the men to come in and find her. Stanley and his buddies Mitch and Steve enter while discussing the location of their poker game tomorrow. They settle on Stanley’s place for the card game, which is sure to be a dramatic turning of events in a scene or two.
Steve and Mitch set off for home (Steve goes upstairs to his wife Eunice, and Mitch goes home to his sick mother, who lives offstage).
Stanley enters, and we get another detailed description by Williams. Stanley is 5'9" tall, strong, cocksure, and “since earliest manhood the center of his life has been pleasure with women.” Williams also describes him as “the gaudy seed-bearer.” Check this out: “He sizes women up at a glance, with sexual classifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way he smiles at them.”
When he enters, he stares appraisingly at Blanche. She introduces herself, and Stanley makes small talk while taking out his whiskey bottle (and astutely noticing that some is missing).
Stanley takes off his sweaty shirt and says, “Be comfortable is my motto.”
Blanche and Stanley chat, with Blanche speaking in proper English and Stanley being more casual and not so grammatically correct.
A screeching cat startles Blanche for the second time.
Stanley asks Blanche about her marriage and, for some reason, “the music of the polka rises up, faint in the distance.” (You might want to take note of this. Williams seems to have a lot invested in his music.)
Blanche says yes, she was married, when she was quite young.
Stanley: "What happened?"
Blanche: "The boy – the boy died. [She sinks back down] I’m afraid I’m – going to be sick!"