New Orleans, La.–In order to obtain the role of Stanley Kowalski in “Streetcar Named Desire,” Marlon Brando drove to playwright Tennessee Williams’ summer home in Provincetown, Mass. to personally audition. It’s reasonable to assume that if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have landed the part, therefore depriving the American cinema of one of the most violently sensual performances in its history. More importantly, if Brando hadn’t made the drive to Provincetown, I wouldn’t be in the midst of this drunken frenzy in Jackson Square, New Orleans, stuffed into a V-neck T-shirt and summoning every ounce of machismo my body holds toward my vocal chords, in the hopes that at my most primal, a panel of strangers think that I resemble a young, gilded Brando.
But what about this dipsomaniac next to me? Why is he staring so serenely into the clear, blue sky above? He has a gut, a chest full of wild, thick, black hair, and a mug that shows me he’s probably 40 years old. Is he channeling his inner Brando?
And what about this mime who just spilled Natural Ice on my jeans? He’s spray-painted himself gold. I wish he’d stop standing so close to me while he’s speaking. Shouldn’t he be refraining from conversation anyway?
And my good friend Tom Burwell–who has inexplicably worn a white V-neck as well–making us appear like two castaways from an S.E. Hinton novel who ran smack-dab into a mob of Stella-yellers while fleeing the Fuzz
Yes, it’s a motley crew, 25 wild-eyed aspiring Brando’s, all of whom have convened on this sunny April day to participate in the annual Stella-yelling contest, the last event of the week-long Tennessee Williams Festival.
When we signed up there were only a handful of people congregated around the balcony on the south side of Jackson Square, but now, fifteen minutes later, the crowd has engorged to hundreds and atop the balcony perch the video cameras of the local news.
It’s a terrifying feeling. I have never done any acting before. At least not that I remember. I clutch my number, 14, tightly in a fist and watch as participants begin to make their way into the performance ring that has been cleared beneath the balcony.
Stella arrives. Stella doesn’t look like Stella from the movie. She’s older and saucier, but somehow that feels right.
I begin to think there’s a whole pathos to Brando that’s crucial to nailing a good “Stella.” I ruminate on this insight as the crooning begins. You can just think of Brando as the alpha-male, super-cool, tough-guy he was in his earlier days, I think. That won’t give you the right scream.
You have to think about Colonel Kurtz as well. You have to think about “The Horror.” You have to think about decay. About Brando dying at 80 weighing 300 pounds.
It is the mime’s turn. He doesn’t say anything, just pantomimes a scream. I hate this mime.
You have to realize that regardless of the fact that it doesn’t get any more iconic than Stanley Kowalski, drunk, desperate and drenched, on his knees, with his shirt torn to shreds, screaming for Stella, that it’s futile to attempt to reproduce that yell.
You’ll always fail. You’ll be lamer than a silent mime painted gold.
Don’t scream for Stella, I think to myself as I push through the crowd and into the circle, scream for Brando instead.
It’s silent inside with the oval crowd ensconcing me. I feel like I’m inside of a whale’s stomach. There is nothing but white noise. The blood flows through my body in violent cascades. I hate this mime so much. I find his black eyes in the crowd submerged in gold. I stare at those eyes.
I stare at those eyes. And I yell.
Props to PSF ( and Chico across the way) for the film below.