The Unraveling of Blanche Dubois

imageIt’s super fantastic! Young Vic’s production of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire is worthy of every minute of this nearly three and a half hour long production, and of any accolades that it has received. Directed by Benedict Andrews with a superb creative team and awesome actors, this performance is emotive, it is heart wrenching. At the end of the performance, I started to shed tears.  It is powerful. The family dynamics are evident to the extent that one can feel Stella’s pain at emotionally losing her sister and one can feel Mitch’s anger toward Stanley (This acting and directing intensity is what I longed to see in A Long Day’s Journey into Night). This production drew me into the story.  I felt the anger, the rage, the intensity of emotion among the characters. Gillian Anderson, from the “X Files”, stars as Blanche Dubois, Ben Foster, from “Six Feet Under”, plays Stanley Kowalski, Corey Johnson stars as Mitch and Vanessa Kirby plays Stella Kowalski. Nearly two years ago, I saw the filmed version of this Young Vic production. I knew that a live performance would be levels greater, but I had no idea that the space at St. Ann’s Warehouse would greatly transform the play.  This performance is theater in the round. The entire stage rotates slowly throughout the performance , with the audience seated around the stage, allowing the audience to see the play from different angles. At no time is the audience cheated as the stage rotates. The rotation, nevertheless, adds to the performance because it draws the audience into the play. St. Ann’s new space has the ability to convert to the demands of each play. The creative team amplifies this play to great heights. The crescendo of sound also transports the audience from scene to scene and the lights either illuminate or hide Blanche’s character. The costumes, the sound design, stellar acting, and brilliant lighting all work together to bring this magnificent story to a worthy stage.

A Streetcar Named Desire is set in New Orleans just after World War II. It is set in a modest neighborhood in the Latin Quarter of New Orleans. Streetcar tells the story of Blanche Dubois, the younger sister of Stella Kowalski. Blanche visits her sister’s home after losing her family home and her job. Blanche, however, fails to disclose the events leading up to her visit. Often inebriated, she fails to face reality. She still lives in the glory days of the past and makes her sister feel as if she is a failure. Blanche meets Stanley, Stella’s husband for the first time and dislikes him. He soon dislikes her as she attempts to place a wedge between him and Stella.  Blanche meets Mitch, a man in whom she becomes interested. Stanley, suspicious of Blanche’s behavior, delves into her past. He learns that she prostituted herself at a hotel in her home town and that she lost her job as a teacher because of her lewd activities. Stanley tells Mitch about Blanche’s past. Mitch then severs their relationship.  During all of this, Blanche unravels and drinks more and more to the point of becoming addled. Stanley in a fit of rage rapes her, while Stella is at the hospital after giving birth to their child. Blanche never emotionally recovers.  At the end, Stella has made arrangements for the emotionally and physically battered Blanche to be hospitalized. At the end, Stella sobs as Blanche is taken away to a sanatorium.

Gillian Anderson as Blanche Dubois

The acting throughout the performance illuminates the characters and the play’s themes. Gillian Anderson plays Blanche wonderfully. When she first arrives on the set, we see her in all of her splendor, although it is a facade.  Her clothing, her hair, and her voice all epitomize a southern belle. She maintains her southern accent although the performance. Her gestures, her stance, her walk all exemplify a woman from a high class status in life although she has fallen from her perch. As Anderson performs, the audience begins to feel sympathy for Blanche because we realize that Blanche is unraveling as the action rises. Anderson depicts a woman who falls further into an emotional breakdown. Moreover, Anderson and the others perform greatly because of Benedict Andrews’s awesome directing. Anderson stupendously portrays an emotionally wrecked Blanche, whose mind is greatly fragile and  is unconscious of her own mental state. Ben Foster plays a pugnacious Stanley. He acts perfectly to show his contempt for Blanche. He intensifies his anger and his rage through his voice inflection, his countenance, as well as his movement. Foster is equally intense when showing his affection toward Stella. Both Kirby and Johson also play memorable supporting roles. At the close of the play, as Blanche is taken away, she and the doctor walk hand and hand slowly around the rotating set, giving the audience a full view of her emotional breakdown as Stella continues sobbing  uncontrollably as the stage goes dark. The greatest irony is that she arrives at the beginning of the play at Elysian Fields, which, as she says, appears to be anything but that! She has arrived at dystopia, although real and not imagined, instead!

This production is one of the best. Rush to get your ticket today! This performance ends on June 4, 2016. You will not be disappointed. Try the standby line for tickets. It is worth it!


Mark Rylance and His Seven Stages of Man: A Review of Nice Fish


imageWhile watching Mark Rylance’s existential Nice Fish (presented by Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater), I kept asking myself, “What is this play about?” Written by Rylance and Louis Jenkins,  Nice Fish is playing until March 27, 2016 at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. The work originates from Jenkins’s poetry. Knowing that Rylance is one of the greatest contemporary Shakespearean actors and both a Tony and a recent Academy Award winning actor (Bridge of Spies), I wanted to see this live performance.  Having graced the stage at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Rylance has received plaudits for his performances. As Charles Isherwood of The New York Times recently stated, “For a certain slice of New Yorkers- you know who you are- Mark Rylance is the cultural deity that Beyoncé is to, well, a different slice of New Yorkers.” With that information at my fingertips, I decided to see Nice Fish. During the performance in which I attended, Rylance played Ron, and Jim Lichtscheidl played Erik. The play focuses on two men, with occasionally three other characters, in conversation while fishing, and is set in Minnesota during the winter. It has great use of technology, both phenomenal lighting and sound design, and superb costuming that causes a great surprise ending. The issues, however, that may plague the audience member is both the play’s theme and its missing plot. Ironically, the characters at the close of the play discuss what people will say about this play. The two principal characters say the audience members will say that the set design was great, that it had great lighting, that the acting was great, but it had no plot. Then they ask themselves, “What was this play about anyway?” I chuckled at that moment because they knew my exact thoughts. Then the stage goes dark.  I now ask, as I ponder this ninety-five minute play, “what was the theme?” or may I say, “the point?” Knowing that Rylance is a Shakespeare buff and that he included some Shakesperean quotes in this work , I will hazard a guess that Nice Fish was about “Shakespeare’s Seven Stages of Man.”

The two principal actors in Nice Fish ruminate about life. Everyone goes through different stages of life, and life events do not always go according to plan. As we age, our lives change. Sometimes, we have pleasant surprises as well as traumatic heartbreaks. Shakespeare’s As you Like it states, ” All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” Our world represents a stage and our life is a play. The seven stages are: infancy, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantalone, and old age with death on the horizon. The play, through pithy maxims and a great use of language, focuses on the different stages of life with all of its disappointments, successes, and unexpected outcomes. The other characters remind them about life and that they are actors in life’s drama. At the end of the play, ironically, one of the two characters catches the largest fish of his life. They then exit as both old age and marriage grips them.

left to right: Mark Rylance and Jim Lichtscheidl (Used with Courtesy)

The play is worth seeing, but do not expect a plot. Perhaps this play will tour the country. If you like Mark Rylance, you will love him in this!