Write an additional scene about a chance encounter between Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire and Laura from Glass Menagerie. Explore the similarities between the two characters and how they have ended up in their current circumstances.
New Orleans Psychiatric institution, communal dining area. At first glance you would be forgiven for mistaking it for a county jail, or a particularly dilapidated high school. The huge hall is filled with long, narrow tables and little else. In a place such as this, social conventions become irrelevant. Perched on the squat little seats that line the tables one finds a representation of all humanity. At the furthest table a fight breaks out between two women, one white and the other coloured, but a staff member throws himself between them like a referee, ceasing the ephemeral tensions. Prejudices are a luxury reserved for the outside world.
It is noon, and the delicate sunlight filters through the high, barred windows. This light is added to by the incessant glare of the many fluorescent bulbs that line the ceiling, reflecting off the white-washed walls to create an almost blinding level of clarity. Nothing can be hidden from the surveying gaze of the stern matrons. Here, adults are reduced to a child-like state, for that is all they have the capacity for. Nothing can be done without permission; the patients are restricted to the point of incarceration.
A cacophonous din fills the air as the day’s sustenance is served, the commotion reverbed by the immense cave-like ceiling. Clangs of bashing cutlery and the shuffling of seats accompany the serving of an ambiguous-looking meat with limp vegetables.
Screen legend – Southern Belle
[Enter BLANCHE. She hurries to her seat, late as usual due to the untoward amount of time she requires to get ready. She wears a white dress made from imitation chiffon that rustles as she moves. The harshness of the light is unforgiving; her lipstick is slightly smeared, one set of false eyelashes longer than the other and no amount of powder can cover the onset of age that inevitably befalls every woman. She is comparable to a flower past its prime; a tragic fading beauty.]
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BLANCHE: [to no-one in particular] What sort of lunch do you call this? I never expected to miss that horrid apartment in Elysian Fields but this place gives it a run for its money!
[Enter LAURA. Music: The Glass Menagerie, faintly. Laura is a shy girl, gripping on to the arm of a middle-aged DOCTOR as he leads her to an empty seat. Her gait is somewhat awkward due to a childhood deformity. She wears a simple and soft pale, pink dress. She is startlingly out of place in the harsh environment of the institution, as if she was a mere fleeting apparition dreamt of by a delusional patient.]
DOCTOR: You may sit here, Miss Wingfield, next to Miss DuBois. She won’t harm you.
LAURA: [visibly trembling] A-are you sure this is a good idea? I have come to like that quaint little room I was eating in.
DOCTOR: [clinical, impersonal] We have been through this, Miss Wingfield. If you ever want to get better you must show some effort! Try to make conversation and remember your breathing exercises. If you are going to be sick there is a bag on your tray. With that, I will take my leave.
[He frees himself from Laura’s fraught grip.]
LAURA: [desperately] Oh, please don’t go!
LAURA: [muttering to herself as she takes her seat] Remember the exercises… remember the exercises…
BLANCHE: [looking at the newcomer with concentrated interest] I haven’t seen you before. My, you’re young to be here. You couldn’t be any older than 25. Who are you?
LAURA: [in a mechanical tone, as if she were reading from a textbook] L-laura Wingfield. From St. Louis. Nice to make your acquaintance.
[LAURA offers a limp handshake, which BLANCHE bemusedly accepts]
BLANCHE: Well, I’m Blanche DuBois. I come from a quaint little plantation called Belle Reve, a real picture book house. Not that it matters much anymore. What are you in for, anyway? You don’t get many women in here. Did a man drive you crazy? [laughs shrilly.]
LAURA: Not exactly… they say I have social anxiety disorder.
BLANCHE: [dismissively] Can’t say I’ve heard of it. We’re all mad, anyway. Give it whatever fancy name you want. At the end of the day, this place is mad as a box of frogs. My, I can’t wait to get out. They tell me I have all sorts of things – delusions, alcoholism, manic depression – one can hardly keep up with the amount of drugs they heap on me!
[She picks up a plastic beaker full of bland grey tablets. She retains a well-rehearsed grace as she sips water to take them with, as if it were some elegant alcoholic cocktail.]
What are you playing with there?
Screen Image – glass unicorn
[Music: The Glass Menagerie. LAURA is fiddling delicately with a precariously tiny piece of glass; the sort that would break of you merely breathed on it. It is smaller than her fingernail and is only visible if it catches the light. Even then, it is a fleeting shine, soon to fade back into nothingness.]
LAURA: [protectively] Why, it’s nothing. Just a broken piece of glass. It’s a horn.
BLANCHE: A horn?
LAURA: At home… my prized possession was my glass menagerie. [she smiles faintly at the memory] My favourite was the unicorn. However… it broke. I brought the horn here with me. The other part… is with a man.
BLANCHE: [she raises her hands in exasperation] Hah! Men! Terrible, hulking brutes most of them are. Especially those Polacks. What was it Wilde said? “Women are a decorative sex!” If I am to have any chance of happiness I must be innocent, attractive and, most of all, youthful! [Slight polka music can be heard in the distance.]
LAURA: Funny, that sounds like what my mother used to say… Girls are a pretty trap!
Screen Image – Amanda Wingfield
BLANCHE: [she has a distant look in her eyes as she contemplates the various men that have become part of her past] Yes dear, they are. And don’t you forget it when you’ve still got time. This man who has the unicorn – is he your husband? Boyfriend?
LAURA: [getting progressively quieter] In high school Jim was the only one that ever spoke to me. Then he turned up at the house and he… he… kissed me. Of course, he never really liked a cripple like me. He was engaged… [fighting back tears.]
Screen legend – the day at the amusement park
BLANCHE: Typical! I too have had my fair share of shocking dates. In New Orleans I met a gentleman named Mitch. [she begins to talk quickly, as if she were addressing herself] I accompanied him to the amusement park on Lake Pontchartrain, a rather dismal place more suited to easily-amused children. However, this was my first date with a gentleman since… since… forever! I could absolutely not afford to mess this one up. [giggly pause] I was as giddy as a schoolgirl courting behind the bicycle shack – not that I would have engaged in such activity, absolutely not – although I fear dear Mitch saw through my façade. I did try. I tried so very hard. I even pretended I was pleased with that ghastly plaster statuette of Mae West. The erogenous nature of her films draws up memories of a past I wish to forget! [the polka music increases in volume and tempo.]
LAURA: [not following] Oh, I see…
BLANCHE: Every time I look at a man all I can think of is my dear Allen! I ended up telling Mitch about my past, my marriage, when I was just a girl. It was as if Mitch crashed through the invisible barrier I strived for so long to erect. It just - tumbled out! They were words I had desired to tell someone for so long. They had been entombed inside of me for so long it was as if they had gone stale, distasteful even! Even as he embraced me… all I could envisage… was Allan’s desperate touch! [she dramatically outstretches her arms towards an invisible point] Oh Allan, forgive me!
[In her fervour BLANCHE knocks over the ketchup bottle, its crimson innards spilling onto her lap. She frantically dabs at it with a serviette, but to no avail. Her white dress has been permanently tarnished, the bloody hue of the condiment combining with the once wholesome dress.]
BLANCHE: [returning to reality with a jolt] Would you look at that mess! What will ever become of us?
LAURA: [visibly shaken, but speaking with determination] We can’t let little things like this ruin our lives… When I get discharged I’ll go back to Rubicam’s Business College. Yes, I will!
BLANCHE: [she clutches LAURA by the shoulders] You can say that, you’re still young! What hope is there for an old maid like me?
[The polka music and The Glass Menagerie combine austerely in the minds of the patients. An unholy union, two entities that never should have met.]
LAURA: [jumping up from her chair, repulsed at being touched] I-I think I’m done here!
[in her haste to vacate the table she knocks her plate to the floor, where it duly shatters into countless pieces that dance across the floor. The light reflects off the porcelain pieces, framing LAURA in an impromptu spotlight. The breaking noise is audible over the tumultuous din of the room. Many diners turn to look at the spectacle.]
LAURA: [in a tone of utter despair, covering her face with her hands] No… Stop staring…! I’m going to be sick!
[Exit LAURA, who runs away from the scene. The cafeteria soon returns to its natural state, having forgotten that Laura Wingfield ever existed.]
BLANCHE: Shakespeare got it right! ‘Alas, I am a woman friendless, hopeless!’ - There is truly no hope for some people in this world!
[the sound of the door slamming behind Laura as she flees is audible as the light gradually fades out.]