Did you know…
Gillian Anderson is playing Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire in Brooklyn?
If you know me, the answer to that question is likely yes (because I’ve probably screamed it at you for the last 8 months). Well, last weekend Sarah and I made the trek to NYC to do some sight-seeing and take in some theatre. Streetcar was the most anticipated play we’d booked, and it was also the best. So for today’s bit of Wednesday Wisdom, I thought I’d shine a little light on the masterpiece spinning around St. Ann’s Warehouse until June 4th.
I say masterpiece because it really was. And just to get this out of the way right off the bat — it’s true, both Sarah and I are Gillian Anderson fans. (Gillian Fandersons?) Through your many screams of “bias!” however, let me just say — as special as it was to see Blanche brought to life by someone whose work I so admire, and as much as she was the glue of it — the show as a whole was totally kickass, Gillian aside. Every performance was top notch (Vanessa Kirby as Stella, Ben Foster as Stanley, Corey Johnson as Mitch). The set was fresh and original yet reminiscent of Tennessee Williams’s classic design. Both sound and lighting were perfectly, hauntingly (loudly) evocative, and Benedict Andrews’s direction was brilliant. I thought the entire vision for the production was just so clever. It was in the round, and the set revolved from the minute Blanche stepped through the kitchen door. As the play progressed, the world appropriately sped up, slowed down, halted to a stop, changed direction, etc. The audience felt more omniscient than ever given this set up; a feeling only enhanced by the transparent “walls” separating each room. No private moments went unwitnessed, which allowed for a unique kind of intimacy with the characters.
It was also a lot funnier than I’d expected. As a Theatre Studies grad, Streetcar is a play I know well. It’s a favourite. I’ve read it a million times, but I’ve never seen it. Something I’d missed was the humour in a lot of its truths.
On top of this — or outside of it, rather — St. Ann’s Warehouse is in Dumbo, Brooklyn. For those unfamiliar with the location (unlike myself, who, having been there once is now an expert), it’s under the Manhattan Bridge. In fact that’s apparently what Dumbo stands for — Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass. It’s cobble-stoned and industrial; the perfect area to walk through before settling down for this play.
The fact that Gillian was fantastic obviously isn’t surprising. I think she expertly finds the vulnerability in each of the (very different) women she portrays, and this was no exception. Blanche is not a character I’d call subtle though, and subtly is usually what I find so mesmerizing about her work. Blanche is full on. She’s all out. Don’t get me wrong — there’s plenty of underneath stuff to this character. There’s no doubt that she’s layered, but she’s messy. And I’m not sure I’ve seen Gillian Anderson so messy before. Everything Blanche is — every truth of her — hangs, smudges, drips and runs by the end of the play. It’s devastating and heartbreaking and somehow empowering, all at once.
It’s when I see something that moves me in the way I’m about to describe that I know I’m not built to just watch theatre or movies but to make them in some way or another. The process of the creation (or what I imagine it to be) and the product are innately intertwined for me. What made me so emotional watching Blanche unravel was not only Blanche unravelling. It was Gillian allowing herself to go there — to become so vulnerable and honest she was able to bring Blanche to that unravelled place.
Does that make sense, or am I speaking It’s-6am-after-a-weekend-in-New-York?
When an actor can hit something so bang-on you don’t expect that something to look the way it does but are inexplicably moved by it, that’s magic to me. The same applies when reading a book. Suddenly there’s a sentence that speaks to you. Sure, the character is having a revelation and it’s beautiful, but the author wrote it. They’ve felt that thing you’ve maybe been trying to put into words for years. When a musician hits a particular note or riff and you get chills, surely the note itself is stunning, but the fact that that musician produced it — that it came out of their lungs and mouth and landed on your spine — that’s magic. It’s connection in a really cool way, I think.
But enough philosophy for today.
The play was (somehow) even better than I’d imagined. Also, seeing famous people in real life is grounding in a weird way. You’re suddenly reminded that they’re just people (and you feel really awkward about the hoards of others taking a million photos of them after the show). They’re just people doing their thing. For some reason, that makes seemingly unattainable goals feel achievable to me. Celebrities are just people, and Hollywood or NYC isn’t some Lala-land next to the Big Dipper. If you live in the Toronto area, it’s a mere (12 hour) bus ride away.