Monday, December 7, 2009

Cate Blanchett and A Streetcar Named Desire

You may have seen Ben Brantley's rhapsodic review in the New York Times recently of Cate Blanchett's performance in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He absolutely stopped me in my tracks with these words in particular: "Ms. Blanchett’s Blanche is always on the verge of falling apart, yet she keeps summoning the strength to wrestle with a world that insists on pushing her away. Blanche’s burden, in existential terms, becomes ours. And a most particular idiosyncratic creature acquires the universality that is the stuff of tragedy."

But when we inquired about tickets to this remarkable performance and production, we learned that the entire run was sold out. Not to be deterred and with memories of a similar situation when Ian McKellan was at BAM in King Lear, we headed for Brooklyn to stand in the cancellation line for a Saturday matinee. After a surprisingly pleasant wait of almost two hours in which we bonded with some of the other expectant patrons, and with ten minutes to go before the start of the show, we learned that tickets were available in Row D of the Orchestra section on the aisle. We grabbed them, skipped a much needed bathroom break, and settled into our perfect seats. The start of the performance was delayed slightly and for perhaps three or four minutes before the actual opening, an anticipatory hush fell over the audience. Hardly anyone spoke as we all waited patiently for greatness to reveal itself in the partially lit theatre. Then the bluesy, New Orleans music came up, and a spotlight illuminated Cate Blanchett's Blanche Dubois as she rode into town on the Streetcar named Desire headed for that section of the city known as Elysian Fields.

For the next 3 hours and 15 minutes we sat in on the lives of Blanche and Stanley and Stella and Mitch. Thankfully, there was an intermission in the middle that allowed us, finally, to relieve ourselves. But all the rest of the time we were riveted on Blanche and her struggle to stay strong. In the end, like the dishes that Stanley smashes to the floor and the radio that he hurtles out the window, Blanche is destroyed. But it is a most divine destruction. Blanchett turns out to be every bit as good as Brantley claims, though it should also be noted that the entire cast does a remarkable job. In the end, Karen and I were weeping, but to my surprise, I continued to cry as we left the theatre. What was it about Blanchett that elicited such raw and unfettered emotion?

Well, first it must be said that the true hero of any great production of this play is the author - Tennessee Williams. I do not care what anyone says about Arthur Miller or Eugene O'Neill or someone else. For me, the greatest of all American playwrights is Williams. Second, I can't quite say why Blanchett's Blanche moves me so much (funny, isn't it, the similarity between the actress's name and the character she is playing), but it is something about her ability to completely lose herself in this character, to be her without any sign of let-up or release. In all the intensity and strangeness that is Blanche, Blanchett inhabits her world, and yet as Mr. Brantley points out, somehow makes it possible for us to relate to her as well. It is a great and ultimately inexplicable performance, as all such performances are.

1 comment:

  1. Yet another reason to live in NYC. Congratulation for taking advantage of these opportunities, it's inspirational.