This past summer, London was graced with a new staging of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning play, ‘A Street Car Named Desire’ at The New Vic. The London production featured Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Last King of Scotland) as Blanche DuBois, Ben Foster (Six Feet Under, Lone Soldier) as Stanley and Vanessa Kirby (Insomniacs, About Time) playing Stella. The production was directed by Australian director Benedict Andrews.
This production of ‘Street Car’ was filmed and broadcast by National Theater Live to the Michigan Theater and theaters around the world.
‘A Street Car Named Desire’ has won acclaim in both its live productions as well as the iconic film starring Marlon Brando and Vivian Leigh. The cast of The Young Vic’s production holds up in the face of the historic accolades dished out to previous casts.
The play is set in New Orleans in Summer. Blanche DuBouis (Anderson), a fading Southern Belle, shows up unannounced at her younger sister Stella’s (Kirby) apartment, where she lives with her working class husband Stanley (Foster). Blanche is an unreliable narrator of her circumstances. She hides crucial piece of her past and the reasons for leaving her teaching job in Mississippi.
As Blanche laments losing her appearance and not having the interests of a man, all the while drowning her sorrows in alcohol, Stella takes care of her sister, allowing Blanche to criticize her way of life, her husband and her home, as Stanley becomes more suspicious and irritated by Blanche.
Eventually Stanley discovers Blanche’s secrets, her dirtied past as a disgraced woman who turned to selling herself to the pleasures of men. He confronts her and eventually, on the night Stella is giving birth to his child, rapes her. Blanche then completely falls apart and in the end is institutionalized. Stella seems to be aware of the rape but remains with Stanley out of fear and obligation to their baby.
The relationship between Blanche and Stanley in this production was one of curiosity, flirtation, disgust, fear and tension. Although the two seem to mistrust and loathe one another, there is an element of intrigue and desire reverberating underneath. Anderson skillfully kept the illusion of Blanche alive throughout the production. Her approach to shaping the plot and upsetting the relationships in place were so skillfully executed that the moment of fracture was a visceral experience.
Foster’s Stanley, the working class bread winner and abusive husband, charmed the audience while making them uneasy, waiting for him to lose his temper. Foster’s chemistry and physicality with both women was highly sensual and familiar, adding to the on-stage chemistry driving the plot.
Kirby brought justice to Stella, an often overlooked and somewhat forgotten character in this story. This Stella was not just background, she was an important element to be contended with throughout this story, not only as the battered, pregnant wife and sister, but as a young woman, deeply in love and managing the chaos around her. Kirby brought three dimensionality to Stella, a treatment the character rarely receives.
The set design, as well as acting, contributed to the intensity of this piece. The set was built on a rotating device, which slowly revolved throughout the production, giving the audience, sitting in the round, a constantly changing view of the action. There were no solid walls of the apartment, allowing for consistent visibility of the action in the two room apartment no matter the seat. Due to this transparency, the audience watched as actors showered, used the toilet and changed clothing. There was no privacy, bringing the audience into the experience the characters had sharing a two room apartment in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Almost every piece of theater streamed into The Michigan Theater by National Theater Live has been phenomenal. These screenings provide a wonderful opportunity to experience professional theater without flying half way around the world.
The Next NT Live event at The Michigan Theater will be ‘Skylight’ starring Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan on 11 December 2014.