BAM: Cate Blanchett in A Streetcar Named Desire

Cate Blanchett as Blanche Dubois

When the Brooklyn Academy of Music sends me its calendars, I usually descend into an ambitious fever of dog-earring and circling events that I need to attend, problem sets and budget be damned. One entry in particular however, sent me staggering to the phone and blabbering to a friend.

“Oh my god, A Streetcar Named Desire‘s at BAM in November, and CATE BLANCHETT’s in itaskdjhakjhdj!!!”

So two months ago, we secured tickets to a performance of the classic Tennessee Williams play, this iteration performed by Australia’s Sydney Theatre Company and directed by the Norwegian Liv Ullmann, herself a formidable actress and longtime muse to Ingmar Bergman.  The play is set in New Orleans of the 1940’s, aging debutante Blanche DuBois visits her sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley, and through their conflict Williams explores the decay of the South’s romanticized past. With such an international cast, I was curious as to how they would interpret a play so rooted in the idea of the American South.

Suffice to say the production exceeded expectations by miles. Blanchett plays Blanche with fury and tenderness; we see the disintegration of Blanche’s fantasy in her voice’s shrill edge when asking Stanley for a story. Even her coordination breaks down from glide (she had a way of keeping her green dressing gown swirling about in slow motion) to lurch and crawl. When Blanche cries, “I don’t want realism,” Blanchett’s guttural bellow forces you to understand how thoroughly her despair has driven her from the polished tones of make-believe. Joel Edgerton acted the menace perfectly well, unenviably in the shadow of Brando’s Stanley, especially in a scene around a birthday cake, when his mere stance between the two women insinuated violence. Robin McLeavy delighted as Stella, loyal but torn.

Joel Edgerton, Cate Blanchett, Robin McLeavy

The most effective moments in the production often contained no speech however, such as silhouettes on a drawn window shade, the cinematic bloom and fade of lights to illuminate bodies in bed, and the shrinking of a spot light on Blanche’s upturned face to close the play. These distilled the sweep of Williams’s narrative to moments that lingered; not a bad finish for a new production of an old master. Consequently, we left the theatre elated, and with quasi-legit urges to re-watch Elizabeth and re-read Faulkner. It made more sense at the time.

Unfortunately, A Streetcar Named Desire at BAM is currently sold out. Keep an eye on their excellent calendar however…you never know what might turn up.

Livia Huang, CC ’12

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