A Riveting Revolving Streetcar Named Desire in Brooklyn has Arrived
Transferring from London to Brooklyn, the acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar has finally landed at St. Ann’s Warehouse that was originatally staged at the Young Vic in 2014.
And I would like to ask the theatre gods, “what took you so long?”.
Streetcar Named Desire is one of those classic American plays that is catnip to actresses all over the globe. I have seen Cate Blanchett play Blanche (at BAM, opposite Joel Edgerton and Robin McLeavy), as well as Jessica Lange (in 1992, opposite Alex Baldwin and Amy Madigan), Natasha Richardson (in 2005, opposite John C. Reilly and Amy Ryan), and I truly wish I could have seen the original 1947 Broadway production with Jessica Tandy as Blanche DuBois, Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, Kim Hunter as Stella, and Karl Malden as Mitch. That would have been something to see, alas, I was not born yet….
Something about this current production from the get-go, directed with perfection by Benedict Andrews, just swings out and knocks us over, much like a Kowalski fight. The monolithic metal set makes quite a strong statement when you first walk in to take your seats. It’s an impressive modernistic approach to the play that I have never seen before. And in action, it is truly more wonderful then one could have imagined. It gives us so many different angles, sight lines, visual framings (like a movie shot at certain moments), and views into that cramped apartment, that it makes us feel something like a peeping tom, able to catch such striking and uncomfortable images of invading someone’s privacy and intimacy. This is a great piece of work by the set designer Magda Willi, along with the rest of the stellar design team: costumes/Victoria Behr, lighting/Jon Clark, sound/Paul Arditti, and music/Alex Baranowski. [Anna Arabatzis wrote: “They put blood sweat and tears into this production…. Lighting and music playing a major part and setting the tone and scene.Was played out like a film. Cannot speak highly enough of this production.”] And that’s just the beginning. This Pulitzer Prize winning drama (1948) has yet to even get started.
First on stage are the Kowalskis. Stella (a natural yet concentrated Vanessa Kirby) is moving around the small apartment she shares with her brutish and manly husband, Stanley (an imposing and magnificent Ben Foster). They embody the angst, passion, and sexual energy of two charged adolescents, that shiver and shake with animal lust at the sight, sound, and even smell of each other. Like the animal hunter he is, Stanley is first seen coming home from work, bringing his wife a bag of ‘meat’ before running off to the bowling alley with his buddies. Stella hurriedly runs after him like a giddy school girl in love with a red hot beast. At first moment, I didn’t think Kirby was going to work for me as Stella. I had that instantaneous feeling that she was too sexy and young-pretty for her role, but I was wrong. Dead wrong. She brings new tones to that part that I never have experienced, a young foolish sexuality that almost looks itchy to inhabit. The lust and desire that makes her blind to his bullying and anger.
And then in walks Gillian Anderson, struggling in the heat, pulling a large rollie bag on wobbly high heels. Peering over her large sunglasses, Blanche is desperately trying to find the right address – perplexed, anxious, and confused; all wrapped up in one intense entrance by one amazing actress. It’s no wonder this part is coveted by so many performers. It’s an emotional and deeply complex role that gives an actress such a deviating journey to move through from entrance to heart-breaking exit. I was a bit worried initially that Anderson was moving too quickly into Blanche’s instability, especially after that first walk across the stage and interaction with the neighbor, but once again, I was dead wrong. After she takes that first desperate swig of alcohol and the stage starts to revolve, Anderson takes us through an emotional journey that is epic, devistating, and deeply effecting. It’s an extremely unique and modern take on the role, weaving in layers of sexual addictive energy and anxiety that feel so deeply integral to Blanche, especially during the incredibly uncomfortable scene with the young newspaper collection boy. But this energy isn’t just for Blanche, it also resonates with her sister in such a way that it makes their energy even more disturbing. These two sisters are more alike then we first imagined, and frankly, then I’ve seen before in any other production, struggling with and losing themselves to their sexual desires and obsessions, it makes one wonder, what happened to these sisters in their family home of Belle Reve?
Clocking in at over three and a half hours, the time flies by as we watch Anderson’s wounded and flailing bird attempt to save herself, but Foster’s Stanley is too brutal of a animal force to be caught in Blanche’s desperation. He’s also too magnetic to ignore. It’s hard to even find the side you want to take in this war. At times we are drawn into Blanche’s pain, especially the dramatic sad story of the love that seemed to break her apart, but she’s also difficult to love and to take, and in the times we feel for her sister, Stella, who has no idea how to take care of her or even deal with Blanche’s grandiose facade. The only other one who can save Blanche is Mitch, beautifully played by Corey Johnson balancing the sweet gentle suitor and a sweaty defeated man who is also carrying the weight of brutality and anger inside him, just like Stanley.
The tension and the rise to violence is just floating in the air around that revolving stage, that changes direction and speed as if the anxiety and the alcohol levels of these characters goes up and around. All until the final inevitable collapse of our Blanche. It’s a majestic and heart wrenching performance, and not to be missed. We watch her walk out on the arm of the stranger; a gentleman doctor who is to commit her to a mental asylum. Her disintegration into shattered collapse is complete, but the mystery and deluded fantasy of her grand self still holds.
A Streetcar Named DesireBy Tennessee Williams; directed by Benedict Andrews; sets by Magda Willi; costumes by Victoria Behr; lighting by Jon Clark; sound by Paul Arditti; music by Alex Baranowski; original fight direction by Bret Yount; dialect coach, Richard Ryder; produced by Daisy Heath; associate producer, Jo Danvers; fight consultant, J. David Brimmer; hair and makeup consultant/supervisor, Hagen Liss; general manager, Erik Wallin. A Young Vic (David Lan, artistic director) and Joshua Andrews coproduction, presented by St. Ann’s Warehouse.
WITH: Gillian Anderson (Blanche DuBois), Lachele Carl (Mexican Woman), Otto Farrant (Young Collector), Ben Foster (Stanley Kowalski), Nicholas Gecks (Doctor), Troy Glasgow (Pablo), Stephanie Jacob (Nurse), Corey Johnson (Harold Mitchell), Vanessa Kirby (Stella Kowalski), Mark Letheren (Steve Hubbel), Sarah-Jane Potts (Eunice Hubbel) and Claire Prempeh (Woman)