SEPTEMBER 21, 1948
EN ROUTE TO PARIS, Monday—A few days before leaving for Paris, while I was in New York City, I went to see the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "A Streetcar Named Desire," by Tennessee Williams. I had to compare it with "Tobacco Road," since both seem to have the same qualities that made them box-office attractions.
In "Tobacco Road," however, I could see that if one had never been around this country, the play might be enlightening regarding conditions that do exist in our own country. Perhaps there are fortunate people who have never visited a state insane asylum and so have no idea of the number and variety of people and circumstances that make up the tremendous population not only in state asylums but in private sanitariums all over this country.
There may be fortunate people who have never seen certain kinds of sordid poverty. Perhaps they need to recognize types and the results of such surroundings.
I am not sure, however, that a theatre and an evening's so-called entertainment is the proper place for this type of study.
"Streetcar" is a play that is well acted, but the people in it never seemed to become quite real. If they had, I think it would have become unbearable to suffer with them.
As it was, one looked at people who seemed somewhat far removed, and one felt one was examining something in a laboratory. I can understand that actors and actresses would consider this play a great opportunity for showing their abilities. There certainly is a sense of tension and of something crude and almost animal-like that seems to envelope the audience.
I did not feel, however, that I had gained anything when the evening was over. On the contrary, I felt a little soiled in my mind and quite ill, as though I would like to be rid of a mental and emotional experience and was not able to do it.
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I hope I shall get some opportunity to go to the theatre now and then in Paris. I would like to see what the effect of the war and these years of reconstruction have on the different types of theatres that always existed there.
I am told that the opera is again in full swing, but I think the theatre responds more to the circumstances surrounding the lives of the people and that in the theatre one is better able to judge what are the psychological and emotional trends that are either building up a nation or tending to its decay.
There is a certain kind of healthy vulgarity that one can endure, perhaps with some embarrassment but still with amusement. There are certain other types of artistic and emotional expression, however, that show degeneracy of the spirit with the individual and with the nation.