Tuesday, December 15, 2009

File Under...Some Directors Should Just Write Their Own Play

From John Lahr's review of the much-lauded Streetcar Named Desire directed by Liv Ullman. It is playing at BAM and stars Cate Blanchette as Blanche DuBois.

Ullmann’s direction delivers so much pleasure that it’s a shame that, at the finale, she doesn’t deliver the play’s meaning. In her staging of the rape scene that drives Blanche over the edge, Blanche collapses on the bed, only to have her degradation prettified by an invented postcoital dumb show. When, some weeks later, the demented Blanche is taken to a sanitarium, she doesn’t, contrary to Williams’s stage directions, get herself up in the regalia of normalcy, a performance of dignity that, in other stagings, gives genuine pathos to her exit. Instead, still in her slip and bare feet, clutching the doctor with both hands, Blanche is led into the bright light of day like a loony Daisy Mae from “Li’l Abner” ’s Dogpatch. Ullmann’s reductive decisions build to vulgar sentimentality, with Blanche isolated in a spotlight and lost in her own internal music as the curtain falls. Although this doesn’t spoil the evening, it’s a woeful miscalculation. Williams’s play ends not with Blanche but with the Kowalskis’ sexual reconciliation. The final image—unseen on Ullmann’s stage—has, in a sort of Renaissance pictorial grouping, Stella holding her baby, while Stanley kneels at her feet. She sobs as he undoes the buttons of her blouse and murmurs, “Now, now, love.” Blanche has been sacrificed to the Kowalskis’ desire and collusion. The play ends with a line never heard in this production. “This game is seven-card stud,” one of Stanley’s poker-playing buddies says, dealing a new hand. The game of life, Williams is telling us, goes on at all costs.

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