Haley Brown ’14 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Coolidge Corner Theater recently screened a limited broadcast of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Vanessa Kirby, Ben Foster, and Gillian Anderson as the iconic Blanche Dubois. The play was directed by Benedict Andrews and performed at London’s Young Vic theatre company between July 23rd and September 19th.
The play opens with Blanche’s arrival at her sister Stella’s smaller-than-expected home in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where she lives with her husband Stanley. Blanche tells Stella she has encountered some hard times, lost their childhood home to debtors, and that she needs a place to stay for a while. Despite her oncoming child, Stella is happy to receive her sister, for whom she harbors a deep fondness. Stanley is less pleased with the arrangement. He and Blanche quickly polarize one another, Stanley with his insistence that Blanche is somehow faking the papers that declare the loss of her home, and Blanche with her extravagance and highly demanding personality. When Blanche discovers that Stanley’s drunken habits often include breaking dishes and beating her sister, she desperately tries to convince Stella to leave him. But Stella won’t hear of it, insisting that her relationship with Stanley is wild and passionate and violent, but that she likes it that way.
Tension grows worse between Blanche and Stanley up until he presents her with a train ticket out of the state on the same evening Stella goes into labor. Alone in the house, Stanley and Blanche battle out their differences, culminating in a climax that utterly destroys Blanche.
The set design was modern, uprooting the characters from their traditional 1940s era and giving them shiny appliances, sleek silver chairs, and Gucci handbags. The lighting and sound design seemed to echo the psyche of the characters, particularly Blanche. When a scene ended, often in an abrupt and upsetting way, the lights would shift color in time with a loud, grating bang. The audience felt the raw and teetering precipice between sanity and madness, the precipice Blanche balanced on so finely.
While everyone involved in this show gave moving, raw performances, it was Gillian Anderson’s Blanche Dubois who stole the show and devastated the audience. Blanche’s life is a hollow shell of mistakes and regrets that she desperately wants to forget. She masks it all with beauty, half-truths, and fantastical lies to convince herself that it’s better than it is. As she shouts at Stanley in the climax, “I don’t want realism, I want magic! …But please don’t turn on the light!” the thought of facing herself in the bare light of day, stripped of her comforting fantasies, is the most terrible thought in the world. Stanley takes his cruel pleasure in this, jeering her at every turn. Blanche’s struggle to exist in a world of her own choosing — a world free of reality and the hurt of her own mistakes — is at the heart of her character, and it keeps her afloat throughout most of the play, until she buckles at last.
It is Blanche’s character, her innocence and overcompensation and deep tragedy that give this play such a powerful impact, and left the audience staggered as she walked offstage, clinging to an offered arm, delivering her last, famous line, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”