Blanche DuBois (Gillian Anderson) comes to visit her sister Stella (Vanessa Kirby) in New Orleans. The two of them come from a family of plantation owners who have been slowly but steadily going bankrupt. Now their plantation (Belle Reve) is gone and Blanche, who has always been a nervous type, is falling apart due to her alcoholism and the fact that she can’t really deal with her growing age and fading looks. Stella is happy to see Blanche, but Stella’s husband Stanley (Ben Foster), a factory worker, doesn’t trust Blanche or her story about how Belle Reve was lost. Blanche herself is shocked about the circumstances Stella lives in. As Blanche’s and Stanley’s worlds collide, something has got to give.
I love A Streetcar Named Desire. It really is one of my favorite plays. And because I love it so much, I have high expectations and a clear image of what the play should be like. Unfortunately, Benedict Andrews did not fulfill them.
When I heard about this version of the play and especially the cast, I was immediately excited about it. Gillian Anderson is perfect for Blanche and Ben Foster is one of my absolute favorites anyway. But I did worry about choosing him as Stanley. Stanley, for me, is absolutely rooted in his physicality and sexuality: He is intimidating from the get-go, but in a way that you still want to fuck his brains out, despite the bad vibes. Without that attraction and charisma part the way he rules his little world, including his friends and Stella, becomes less comprehensible. My worry was that the same thing would happen here as it did in 360 – Ben Foster would be the embodiment of the character part you have to be scared of, while the character part you find attractive is left behind. Unfortunately that is exactly what happened and that just weakened the play considerably.
Generally I felt that Andrews took the play too much at face value when it came to the relationship between Stella and Stanley (especially the ending is quite literally what Williams wrote but to me it didn’t feel like that’s what he meant. Especially because I like a more liberal interpretation of the ending where Stella leaves). There is an abuse dynamic to it, that I didn’t see very well reflected in that version of the play and I missed it. The play is still great, but there were just a few notes missing or rather misrepresented when compared to my version of the play. This probably wouldn’t have been an issue if I hadn’t such a definite view of the play myself but that’s how it is.
The stage design was interesting – Stanley and Stella’s apartment, open from all sides, slowly revolving in the center of the stage with the audience around it entirely and I think it wonderfully reflected the way that it is impossible for Blanche to keep up appearances as she is scrutinized from all sides, even if well-meaning. It did make scene transitions difficult though and I didn’t think that they found a great solution for that: turning the lights down while playing loud music. The music was like a slap in the face and pulled me out of the play several times.
In the end that leaves Gillian Anderson and Vanessa Kirby who are both great. The production is at its best when it shows the relationship between the two sisters or Blanche’s unraveling. But I do admit that I was generally disappointed.