Gillian Anderson Shines in Updated ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’

Tennessee Williams is my favorite playwright, so it should come as no surprise that A Streetcar Named Desire is one of my favorite plays of all time. If done right, it is gritty and raw. There is no hero, only flawed characters engaged in psychological and physical warfare.

The Young Vic and Joshua Andrews produced their London production of A Streetcar Named Desire under the direction of Benedict Andrews. The production was filmed by National Theatre Live in 2014 and is available to stream on YouTube through May 28, 2020: https://youtu.be/BJEpYaD3yTw.

A Streetcar Named Desire originally opened on Broadway in 1947. It is Williams’ most popular play.

The story revolves around Stanley Kowalski and his wife Stella. Stanley is as blue collar as they come. He served in the military and now does manual labor. He and his wife live in the French Quarter in New Orleans, where the temperature and emotions run hot.

Unannounced, Stella’s older sister Blanche DuBois comes to visit. Unbeknownst to Stanley and Stella, Blanche has come to them because she has nowhere else to go. Although hospitable at first, the longer the visit draws out, the more tension there is between Stanley and Blanche.

Stanley wants to be king of his own castle, as has always been the case with he and Stella. Blanche, however, wants to be doted on like a queen – something that irks Stanley to no end. Eventually the boiling emotions erupt, and all parties are forever changed.

The Young Vic production stars Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame as Blanche. Anderson won the Olivier Award for Best Actress for her performance, and deservedly so. Often times “stunt casting” of a celebrity can boosts ticket sales, but sometimes the quality just isn’t there.

This is not the case with Anderson’s Blanche. She stays true to the essence of the character, while exploring news ways to interpret it. Her Blanche is more of a spoiled child than we’ve seen in past interpretations of the role.

They say that one’s emotional maturity stops upon one’s first embrace of alcohol or drugs. If that is the case, Gillian’s Blanche probably started drinking in her mid-teens.

Stella is played by Vanessa Kirby. Kirby’s Stella can’t help but be protective of her older sister. However, she is not the same person she was as when she and Blanche were young. Stella has evolved or devolved as the case may be. She enjoys her blue-collar life with Stanley. While she cherishes her relationship with her sister, in the end Stella’s allegiance goes to Stanley.

Ben Foster is the actor charged with playing opposite Blanche and Stella. I did not like Foster when he first appeared. He just didn’t strike me as a Stanley.

However, as the play went on, Foster’s characterization grew on me. His is not the bombastic young hot head Stanley as originated on Broadway by Marlon Brando. Foster shows us a thought process behind his actions, rather than just relying on emotional response.

There is a scene in the play that changes everything for everyone. In every production I have seen prior to the Young Vic’s, it is a scene in which Stanley rapes Blanche. However, in this production the two seem mutually consensual in bed – as if Blanche doesn’t have the emotional energy to fight off advances, so she surrenders to them.

This is not the only factor of the play that is unique to this production. Director Andrews has set the play in the 1980s, a time of cordless phones but before widespread use of cell phones. While the recasting of the time period was somewhat offsetting at first, it grew on me. By the end, I found it refreshing. It works.

Also unique to this production is the set. The monstrous set rotates throughout the production, making sure there is not a single bad seat in the house. Again, I found it refreshing.

The Young Vic production of A Streetcar Named Desire is a rare treat – a well filmed live production featuring flawless performances. – https://youtu.be/BJEpYaD3yTw.

It’s only available for free for a short time so I recommend you see it while you can. Be aware the play contains violence and mature situations and language.

Peace. Love. Trust.

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