Today J and I totally skipped out on an afternoon of work to go and see A Streetcar Named Desire at BAM starring Cate Blanchett as Blanche, Joel Edgerton as Stanley, and Robin McLeavy as Stella.

HOLY CRAP.

Within the first five minutes of the play there was no question in my mind that taking some personal time from work to see this production was absolutely the right thing to do.

Before you start to think that I must take time off of work willy-nilly, there are some things you should know:

  • I love Tennessee Williams, and after reading my first Williams play, I spent the next 24 hours reading five more.
  • I’ve taught Cat on a Hot Tin Roof every semester since I started teaching at Hunter, and I always make my students watch movies based on Williams plays.
  • I love seeing Williams in the theater. Last year I saw the totally phenomenal production of Cat on Broadway with Terrence Howard, Anika Noni Rose, James Earl Jones, and Phylicia Rashad.

As soon as I found out that BAM was doing Streetcar, I tried to get tickets (I did! But they make you wait for them if you’re not a “Friend of BAM,” which, clearly, now I am) but they were sold out except for Wednesday matinee performances. So I consulted with J. And then we got tickets to go. TODAY!

(If you’re interested in seeing this play, by the way, I think you can still get tickets on Craigslist and EBay for about a thousand dollars. Suckas!)

Back to the pith of my review: Phenomenal. Awesome. Astounding. Incredible. Or rather, HOLY CRAP. Let me say this: any Wednesday matinee performance that receives five curtain calls–yes, FIVE–it’s got to be pretty special. And it was!

Elia Kazan would be in awe of Cate Blanchett. She was born to play Blanche DuBois. She is nervous and tense and weepy and ready to lose it at any minute. Yet, she is also trying very hard to put on a good show (as Blanche, not as Blanchett). She really wants to be in love with Mitch. And she really wants her sister to see what had been lost with Belle Reve (their plantation home), and why she should leave Stanley. Blanche has been so obviously destroyed by her husband’s homosexuality and suicide that desperation permeates the whole play.

In the review of the first production, Brooks Atkinson has this to say about Blanche:

Blanche–for that is her name–has delusions of grandeur, talks like an intellectual snob, buoys herself up with gaudy dreams, spends most of her time primping, covers things that are dingy with things that are bright and flees reality.

To her brother-in-law she is an unforgiveable liar. But it is soon apparent to the theatregoer that in Mr. William’s eyes she is one of the dispossessed whose experience has unfitted her for reality; and although his attitude toward her is merciful, he does not spare her or the playgoer.

Blanchett’s Blanche is almost none of those things. According to Ben Brantley of the NY Times,

What Ms. Blanchett brings to the character is life itself, a primal survival instinct that keeps her on her feet long after she has been buffeted by blows that would level a heavyweight boxer.

…Ms. Blanchett’s Blanche is always on the verge of falling apart, yet she keeps summoning the strength to wrestle with a world that insists on pushing her away. Blanche’s burden, in existential terms, becomes ours. And a most particular idiosyncratic creature acquires the universality that is the stuff of tragedy.

Final notes:

  • I’ve never been that interested in Cate Blanchett (except for her performance as Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings), but she’s definitely on the top of my list now.
  • What is Robin McLeavy going to do next? I hope that she comes to New York to do it.
  • The only weakness of the play was in the Australian-cum-New Orleans accents. Sorry Mitch, but at no point did I believe that you were from anywhere near the Southern United States.

********

Today’s “Best of 2009” category is “Tea of the year.” Congratulations Honest Tea, your Peach White Tea is the winner!

Advertisements