In Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece, the lustfully married Stella asks her sister Blanche: “Haven’t you ever ridden on that streetcar?” She’s talking about Desire, that “rattle-trap streetcar that bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another.” But, the truth is, Blanche has seen more than her share and it disgusts her. “It brought me here. Where I’m not wanted and where I’m ashamed to be,” she says
Well, I feel desire, too. And it’s in the form of Cate Blanchett, Liv Ullman and the spectacular production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the BAM Harvey Theater. I desire that all productions I spend money on be just as emotionally-charged, thoughtfully-directed and unselfconscious as this one.
We were treated to an artist’s talk with the cast immediately after the performance where we learned that this was a labor of love by Blanchett and Ullman, who originally wanted to bring an adaptation of “A Doll’s House” called “Nora” to the screen, and instead decided to concentrate on this very American play with arguably the most iconic characters and memorable lines around…but do it with a Norwegian director and an Australian cast. Blanchett said she had always shied away from the role of Blanche and it scared her. But, she admitted, she’s “always scared.”
Joel Edgerton, who played Stanley Kuwalski, chimed in: “Marlon Brando made a lasting impression in people who haven’t even seen the play.” After six weeks of rehearsals, the cast dropped their accents, conquered their nerves, liberated themselves from the past and “brought the play home.”
The set – mostly a studio apartment divided with tacky flowered curtains – enhanced the claustrophobic nature of the production and set the scene for one of the great showdowns in fictional history: the town princess-turned “town character” Blanche vs. the “Survivor of the Stone Age” Stanley. Clearly, a studio apartment just isn’t big enough for the both of them and the climactic drunken rape scene was devastating in showing just how lost these two really were: him, stumbling around violently in his wedding night red silk gown; her, makeup smeared, dress ripped open and mumbling under a shroud.
Shrouds, darkness and corners played a major role in the production. Blanche has much to hide. She has fallen far from grace and love, which she feels is the only thing that can restore her to the confident Grand Dame she once was. That’s why Russell Kiefel, who played the Strange Man who at the very end comes at Stella’s request to take Blanche away, was asked to play the role like “the man she’d been waiting for. It was like setting a bird free.”
It’s true: Here, a lingerie-clad Blanchett, skin and emotions bare of all pretenses, looking to the Strange Man for her rest. “I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers,” she says with relief and with a light shining overhead.
Posted by: Mariela