Last night, I went to BAM to see the new production of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire". Simply put, it was stunning. I have read the play many times, seen more than a few productions and watched the movie countless times but last night I felt like I was seeing it all for the first time. And most of that is due to Cate Blanchett's remarkable performance as a character that too often becomes a caricature, Blanche Dubois. That was not the case in this production, masterfully directed by Liv Ullman. Blanche is real...almost too real. Which, in the end, makes this play the epic American tragedy it was always meant to be.
Blanche is played here as a fairly competent, cheerful and together woman (after all, she WAS a schoolteacher for all those years) who just now is beginning to teeter and fall under the weight of a lifetime of lies, disappointments and delusions, not to mention a healthy appetite for whiskey. Blanchett lives this transformation in a stunning three-hour tour plus de force of acting, as we watch her struggle with the demons and madness that slowly start to swallow Blanche whole.
However, this is not to say this "Streetcar" is a one woman show (another trap that other versions fall into). All the characters here are drawn out equally well and there are some unusual new twists to the interpretation of Mitch, Blanche's suitor, and Stanley, Blanche's pursuer. As Ben Brantley states in his eloquent review, this is not played as the battle of Stanley v. Blanche....it's more Blanche against herself. And when she loses, it is truly heartbreaking.
When a buzz show like this becomes a "hot ticket", I am usually wary of the hype. In this case, I can honestly state that the hype doesn't get the half of it. Cate is truly remarkable but as another playwright once said, the play is the thing. And here Tennessee Williams' "Streetcar" is restored with its author's original intent fully realized. This is powerful stuff and, if the theatre gods (aka Equity) have any mercy, the show will hopefully end up on Broadway next year for many more to see.