St. Ann’s Warehouse
45 Water St.
Extended through June 4
Gillian Anderson is sensational as Blanche DuBois in the American premiere of the Young Vic production of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, continuing through June 4 at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo. Director Benedict Andrews (The War of the Roses, The Return of Ulysses) sets the story in contemporary times, taking place on and around Magda Willi’s long, rectangular platform that shows a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen and rotates throughout the play, giving audience members, seated on all four sides of the theater, ever-changing views. Things went bad for Blanche in Mississippi, so she arrives in the sweltering hot French Quarter in New Orleans to stay with her younger sister, Stella (Vanessa Kirby), and her husband, Stanley Kowalski (Ben Foster), until she gets back on her feet. But Blanche’s troubles are deeply psychological, preventing her from facing reality, instead living in a dark fantasy world that she walks through almost like a ghost. Anderson brings a haunting yet beautiful maturity to the role, whether downing shots, flirting with men, or sitting on the toilet. She makes the part her own from the very beginning; for more than three hours, we forget about Vivien Leigh, Jessica Tandy, Cate Blanchett, Jessica Lange, Blythe Danner, Ann-Margret, Amy Ryan, Rosemary Harris, and other previous Blanches as Anderson sweeps us away in her character’s damaged mind. Kirby (The Acid Test, Women Beware Women) is excellent as Blanche’s hot younger sister, who has settled into brutal, passionate, lower-class domestic life. Foster (Orphans, Kill Your Darlings) is a different kind of Stanley, showing more vulnerability as he walks around in flip-flops, less physically imposing as previous portrayers, who include Marlon Brando, Alec Baldwin, Hume Cronyn, Treat Williams, Aidan Quinn, John C. Reilly, and Blair Underwood.
Corey Johnson (A Prayer for My Daughter, Death of a Salesman) is almost too gentle as Mitch, Stanley’s friend who falls for Blanche. Andrews’s modernization not only features such somewhat contemporary devices as a cordless telephone but also songs by Cat Power, PJ Harvey, and Chris Isaak, with Alex Baranowski’s loud, thumping EDM exploding in between scenes. Winner of the Olivier Award for Best Revival, this Streetcar brings new insight to an oft-told tale, right up to the heartbreaking conclusion. “No one was as tender and trusting as she was,” Stella tells Stanley at one point. “And people like you forced her to change.” (For a short film directed by Anderson for the Young Vic that serves as a kind of prequel to Streetcar, go here, but be prepared for losing some of that tender mystery that makes Blanche such a fascinating character.)