With adrenaline-charged performances from leading lady Gillian Anderson, Benedict Andrews’ “compellingly harsh” revival of A Streetcar Named Desire is taking New York by storm.
This daring 21st-century reset of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece, which is supported by Bruno Wang Productions, has just opened at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn – having transferred from the Young Vic in London, where it was a huge hit.
Critics are already hailing its staging, with Ben Brantley of The New York Times, praising designer Magda Willi’s wall-less revolving set. Mr Brantley says it, “gives us a drone’s-eye-view of every angle of the two rooms shared by Blanche’s younger sister, Stella (a terrific Vanessa Kirby) and her husband, Stanley (Ben Foster) … it has the generic starkness of an Ikea-furnished starter apartment for newlyweds. Blanche’s tight, short, flashy wardrobe (Victoria Behr is the costume designer) wouldn’t look out of place in a television pilot for Real Housewives of New Orleans.”
This brutal backdrop is the ideal setting for Andrews’ interpretation which, says Mr Brantley, has a decidedly “feminist streak… a piercing awareness of a society that values its women according to youth and attractiveness. In this context, Blanche’s obsession with looking pretty acquires a sad emotional weight that tips into existential panic. ‘People don’t see you – men don’t — don’t even admit your existence unless they’re making love to you,’ she says to Stella. ‘And you’ve got to have your existence admitted by someone.’”
Theatre-goers will most certainly be admitting the existence of this Blanche, whom Ms Anderson – known internationally for her roles in The X Files and The Fall – plays with a distrustful worldly edge to her sharp Southern Belle. The mixture feels both timeless and au courant. Her brittleness in high heels, teetering on a deliberately unstable set may set our nerves jangling more than our hearts, but in the end, as Mr Brantley confirms: “It’s impossible not to feel a choking rush of compassion for a valiant, misguided fighter who never stood a chance.”