Tennesse Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is a great classic play, and the Young Vic does it justice in their current production, filmed and broadcasted to movie theaters around the world in early October.
The play tells the story of Blanche DuBois, an aging southern belle who comes to stay with her sister and unwelcoming brother-in-law in their tiny New Orleans home after losing her family’s estate. The drama that unfolds between Blanche, Stella, and Stanley is a struggle for dominance between Blanche and Stanley as we learn more about Blanche’s past and the events that brought her to the Quarter.
The Young Vic’s take on this story is refreshingly modern.
The all-star cast features Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois. Anderson has received much well-deserved critical praise for her portrayal of the fragile Blanche, playing the character with such sincerity that one forgets they are watching a character at all. Her penultimate scene is particularly chilling, as Anderson plays Blanche’s breakdown with unnerving recklessness.
The rest of the cast is also impressive, with Vanessa Kirby as Stella and Ben Foster as the animalistic Stanley. Foster plays the dominance of Stanley well, with a good balance of humor and imposing masculinity. Though Kirby’s accent occasionally slips, she is well cast as the loyal Stella, and the three do well in crafting Williams’ story.
But the cast is not the only thing that makes this 1947 play seem new. Director Benedict Andrews has employed a constantly revolving stage in this production, giving the effect of perpetual motion that matches the play’s action. The moving stage is a novel idea and probably works better in the theater than on screen, as lines of dialogue and important moments are lost when the stage revolves a set piece or wall in front of the camera.
Another device worth noting is the use of a more modern soundtrack — used sometimes in place of or alongside Williams’ “blue piano.” The songs played between scenes are varied, but many include booming eighties beats. These, when accompanied with the intense colored lights that shroud the cast in not-quite-darkness during scene changes, create a pleasantly jarring effect.
This production of Streetcar features a very strong cast and creative team that elevate an already powerful play. Most importantly, the production does not paint the characters as one-sided heroes and villains, but real people both sympathetic and contentious, left for the audience to decide who to side with. Now closed in London, the National Theatre is broadcasting encore showings of the performance in early October, with one at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Cambridge on October 2nd. The experience is not one to miss.