WE respond to Brian Beacom’s column (“It’s hard to see Stanley Kowalski as anything but white”, The Herald, August 31), which criticises the casting of black actors in Rapture Theatre’s touring production of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

We are accused of “anachronistically … playing” with the “playwright’s period intentions”. Yet, in the opening stage directions of Streetcar, Williams describes New Orleans as “ … a cosmopolitan city where there is a relatively warm and easy intermingling of the races”; not, as it is described in the column, “a world of stark segregation”.

Furthermore, Williams sanctioned several multi-racial productions of Streetcar and also took a strong stand against racial inequality.

Loading article content

In 1947, the same year in which he wrote Streetcar, he took legal action to prevent a production of his play The Glass Menagerie being performed in a theatre that did not admit black people.

He wrote in the New York Times: “Any future contract I make will contain a clause to keep the show out of Washington while this undemocratic practice [of audience segregation] continues.”

Rather than “play” with the “author’s period intentions”, our purpose was to fulfil them by being inclusive and democratic in our casting decisions.

Our aim was to present the city as Williams saw it and heard it with what he described as “brown hands” playing music in the bar off-stage. Our vision was clearly and directly in line with the playwright’s.

A further assumption is made that the play’s central character, Stanley Kowalski, cannot be black because he is also Polish.

However, the experience of being black is not exclusive to nationality. Our research found evidence of black soldiers in the Polish army in the 1920s and, in any case – given that Stanley Kowalski was, as he states in the play, “born and raised”, in America – he may well have been of mixed-race heritage and Polish simply because one of his parents was a Polish immigrant.

Additionally, the column states that Stanley Kowalski’s “race and class informed his status” and extrapolates that it is his heritage that defines “his attitudes to life and women”.

However, it is impossible to accept that Tennessee Williams – champion of the outsider, the dispossessed, the unfortunate – could conceivably have resorted to such racial stereotyping as a shorthand method of characterising the multi-layered complexity of his male protagonist: a war hero experiencing a loss of status, bigotry, poverty and undoubtedly the damaging psychological effects of combat.

His character flaws are not simply an expression of his Polish background.

We take it as a given that all human beings, regardless of their heritage, are capable of experiencing the full range of emotions.

We have assembled a talented cast of outstanding actors. To suggest that “explanations” are required for their casting as American citizens because of their skin colour indicates, at best, a narrowness of thought and a lack of imagination.

Williams intended to confront the ugliness and brutality of bigotry, prejudice and hatred; so do we.

Lyn McAndrew,

Co-Artistic Director, The cast, crew and creative team

of A Streetcar Named Desire,

Rapture Theatre,

224 The Briggait,

Bridge Street, Glasgow.