Friday, August 23, 2013

Gate Theatre, 'A Streetcar Named Desire': Don't You Just Love Those Long Rainy Afternoons in Dublin?

Photo: Peter Rowen
Gate Theatre
Jul 18-Sept 21

My review of A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennesse Williams coming up just as soon as I instill a bunch of drugstore Romeos with a reverence for Hawthorne and Whitman and Poe ... 

Disclaimer: I am drinking in a late night establishment. It might seem unprofessional - to drop my pen to swig my beer, to stop to surveil the scene: the handsome men (seemingly an after work crowd, all still neatly wearing their shirts and ties), but at least my thoughts are on that particular streetcar named Desire.

I suspect that my Catholic upbringing has done a lot to cover up how I talk about sexuality but, Christ, can we scream to the heavens right now and announce that we all have sexual desires, that we all long for connection.

I'm into love. But where I've looked to men with sharp minds and strong bodies I've been left undercover. The words exchanged became rude and angular, the phone messages weren't returned and communication itself became a beast to rear in. Most recently I was left waiting for two hours for someone to show up for a date, and, in a fashion not too far removed from Stella Kowalski, who will always forgive her cruel husband Stanley, I overlooked it, and, better yet, still invited him over (which is definitely a move closer to Stella).

So now I've chosen this scene: the bar with its serving of drinks, the softening of our minds and speech, all combining to remove that distance we place in front of strangers. Here dialogue isn't edged out with effort; it comes natural and easy. No one might compose me a sonnet or dedicate a fu*king play to me but that's okay. I'm only after something simple and uncomplicated tonight.

"I don't want realism. I want magic!", sings Blanche Dubois.

I picture her getting off that streetcar, wading down the New Orleans streets with her suitcase full of glamorous coats, pearls and pages of poems written for her by a dead boy. She nervously moves between the soft street lights, running her fingers through her hair, wearing a dress vibrant and delicate like a butterfly's wing, until arriving at her sister Stella's house. Blanche has to relay to her that the family's ancestral home is lost, prompting hostility from Stanley, who according to a State law is entitled to whatever property that his spouse owns. 

Stanley nearly knocks a tooth from pregnant Stella's face but Blanche is further horrified when her sister reveals she's ready to take him back in open arms, for reasons that have little to do with one's character or mind: "What you are talking about is desire - just brutal Desire".

Yes Tennessee Williams, I get it: physical beauty is passing (I swig my beer). But what everybody in this play (even Stanley, thanks to a layered performance by Garrett Lombard in this particular production) and in the whole world longs for is protection, for someone that will save them from that frightening loneliness. Who's not desperate to escape from that, and who will not relocate to the other side of the bar at 2am, closer to the man in the blue shirt whose eyes have been occasionally landing on them?

But to stay with the task at hand: when I think back on Ethan McSweeny's production of Streetcar for the Gate, I feel that there are some misfires. Catherine Walker's Stella seems to scatter in every direction, and I've never seen Denis Conway as un-warmed up and his tenor as flat as on his attempts of the Louisiana accent. 

Lombard does bring great danger to Stanley Kowalski, and in his delivery of the iconic "STELLA!" there is great pain and a suggestion of regret.

But really, the marvel here is Lia Williams as Blanche. This is without a doubt one of the greatest performances I have seen on an Irish stage. Her accent swings and sways like the Mississippi River, her every twitch and spark cleverly calculated. This is a theatrical who simply vibrates on a different frequency. And when she accounts that dark night when Blanche's husband broke away from their Varsouvian waltz, and from her life forever, she is completely devastating. 

I take another drink of my beer and look over again to the man in the blue shirt, whose eyes again stray from his friends' to mine. 

Blanche is looking for magic, I remind myself. "I do misrepresent things", she admits, "I don't tell truths. I tell what ought to be true". Call her a delusional, a lunatic, but then again is it not beneath us to settle for the brutal intimacies of the Stanley Kowalskis of the world? Then let's give ourselves to some higher thought, to some belief that there are minded men and women out there for whom affections are to be performed as an art, to express love as if music or poetry (or better yet, theatre).

Are those people even out there? Blanche Dubois is a character of fiction but Williams makes her uncannily real. And if she can still rise from her knees after being knocked down by a world that rejects her, and still say with sheer truth and sincerity: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers", then I think we can all hold on to a little faith in our fellow humans.

The music ends and the bar closes. I take a final swig and I look once more to the boy in the blue, knowing well it's a passing persuasion. Directing a smile at him I leave, alone.

What did everybody else think of A Streetcar Named Desire?

1 comment:

  1. I loved the play first time I have ever seen it (Simpsons doesn't count) and I am certain this production would be hard to beat if I we to see it again. I was totally and completely enthralled and the word "Cathartic" describes the play most fully. Great set and scene created perfectly with the music. Powerful performances and think some real tears.

    You talk about Blanche the most in your review. I think we (the audience) are meant to identify with Blanche. She is there to remind us that if you are imperfect if you fall from grace if you are vulnerable the world will be unforgiving.