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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

SHADINGS OF DESPAIR
By SANDY MACDONALD

  Ph: Richard Termine

Every actress brings her own shadings to Blanche DuBois, and there’s no shortage of possible interpretations – a testament to the shimmering empathy with which Tennessee Williams layered his most brilliant creation.
 
Cate Blanchett’s Blanche sends mixed signals – as well she should. But Blanchett’s own persona lends a puzzling, and often alienating, ambiguity. While adopting the flighty gestures of an erstwhile lady appalled at the appalling circumstances amid which she finds herself (Ralph Myers’ oppressive, largely blank set is more suggestive of a South Bronx tenement than New Orleans), Blanchett for the most part employs her own naturally low, husky voice. Aside from the shades it summons of male impersonators past, Blanchett’s whiskey timbre gives too much of Blanche’s game away too soon (not that most audiences don’t by now know every twist and turn). It signals a woman who has been around and doesn’t care who knows it – someone at ease with her sexuality and open to further adventures.
 
Blanchett’s big reveal – about her “many intimacies with strangers” – to the smitten, hitherto respectful Mitch (Tim Richards, who handles well the worm’s turn) doesn’t have the impact it should, when delivered in a worldly basso profundo.
 
In every other regard, Blanchett conveys Blanche’s hairpin emotional volte-faces brilliantly. Under Liv Ullman’s sensitive, subtly inventive direction, Blanche starts and ends the play alone, clearly at the frayed end of her rope. But whereas she starts out fragile and trembling, she ends with an eerily removed aura of resolve that’s every bit as unsettling.
 
Joel Edgerton and Robin McLeavy deserve praise as the – here, appropriately young – inamorati, the Kowalskis, whose bond appears as solid as their circumstances are squalid. Stella, when too broadly daubed, can too often come across as a proto-earth-mother, a semi-masochistic voluptuary who – out of lust – has opted, as Blanche puts it, “to hang back with the brutes.”  McLeavy’s Stella is intelligent, and refined in her own fashion; she just happens to be in love. In Edgerton’s depiction, Stanley really is a brute – but a crafty, conniving one, not just a dumb lug. Against him, Blanche doesn’t stand a chance.
 
The play’s final scene, in which she is dispatched to her next and no doubt final destination, has sunk many a production. Handled badly, it’s the stuff of melodrama. Here, with Russell Kiefel as the “Strange Man” (doctor) exuding the solicitude Blanche has sought all her life, it’s a heart-wrencher.

 


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