Try googling “plays about cars.” You might come up short.
I once saw a production of The Comedy of Errors that had a real-life ambulance driving around onstage. Did the play call for an ambulance? No. Did said ambulance illuminate the complexities of Shakespeare’s text in any significant way? Not really.
But was it awesome? ABSOLUTELY.
For too long, we’ve settled for a theatrical landscape almost entirely lacking in automobiles. With a few simple tweaks to these classic plays, I think we can finally turn this around.
1. A Streetcar Named Desiree
In Tennessee Williams’ 1947 original, our focus is on Blanche DuBois, her sister Stella, and Stella’s husband Stanley. But you know who we never get to meet?
The streetcar itself.
Easy fix: just add one letter to the title and BOOM. Lights up on Desiree, a wise but lonely streetcar on the outskirts of New Orleans who meets down-on-her-luck Blanche at the top of the play. They forge a beautiful friendship.
After the climactic scene — the one where Stanley usually yells “STEELLLLLLLLAAAAAAA!” but in this version will yell something really funny about how hard it is to find a good pre-owned car these days — when Blanche is brought to her absolute lowest point, she’ll remember Desiree, the kindest streetcar she’s ever known, and find the strength to leave behind the ghosts of her past for good:
“I have always depended on the kindness of streetcars. Especially Desiree. She was a real gem.”
— Blanche DuBois
2. Oedipus Wrecks
In Oedipus Rex, written by Sophocles in 429BC, we learn that our protagonist, Oedipus, killed a bunch of travelers after their carriage bumped into his at a crossroads. But, as Oedipus discovers later, it turns out that one of the guys he killed was actually his dad.
Personally, I lost a lot of sympathy for the guy at this point. Sure, it’s easy to overreact when dealing with bad drivers, but is murder ever the best response? I would argue no.
But what if, instead of getting road rage, Oedipus gets a text from his mom, it distracts him, and he hits the other car by accident? We get a scene where he heroically tries to pull his dad (who he still doesn’t know is his dad, mind you) out of the burning wreckage, only to have the engine explode at the last second.
Now that’s drama.
3. Death of a Used Car Salesman
Thousands of years after Sophocles, Arthur Miller reinvented the genre of tragedy by shifting the focus from royalty to everyday folks like you and me.
Still, just like Oedipus before him, Willy Loman can be a pretty unlikable tragic hero. He cheats on his wife, is pretty awful to his sons — but most importantly, we never even find out what kind of a salesman he is.
Plus, we know he’s gonna die from the title, but we never get to see the guy go. We just find out he got in a car crash after the fact. So anticlimactic.
Solution: we move the car crash onstage and make him a used car salesman to add a layer of extra double tragic irony.
Even better: it’s the same explosion scene from Oedipus, but seen from the other perspective. WILLY LOMAN WAS OEDIPUS’ DAD THE WHOLE TIME. Theatre history comes full circle. Dramaturgs everywhere cry tears of joy. And it’s all. thanks. to. cars.