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Paulanne Simmons

"A Streetcar Named Desire"

"A Streetcar Named Desire"
Directed by Liv Ullmann
BAM Harvey Theater651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn
Opened Nov. 27, 2009 Closes Dec. 20, 2009
Check website for scheduleTickets: $30 - $120
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 30, 2009

"A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE" -- Photo by Richard Termine

Sydney Theatre Company's production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" brings together three giants of theater, Tennessee Williams, Liv Ullmann and Cate Blanchett. The result is fireworks.

Let's take the play first. "A Streetcar Named Desire" is considered by many to be Williams' greatest work. And for good reason. The play, set in the Faubourg Marigny of New Orleans, is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. It pits the fragile, emotionally broken Blanche Dubois against her sister Stella's brutal and brutish husband, Stanley Kowalski.

Blanche, who has no money, no friends, and a murky past, is fighting for her life. Stanley, who suspects Stella may be less than happy with her spiritually and materially impoverish life, is fighting for the right to be king in his own house. It's a mismatch from the very beginning. But even though it's obvious Blanche is going to lose, her desperate struggle and Stanley's relentless aggression make the play both mesmerizing and moving.

"A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE" -- Photo by Richard Termine.

Ullmann, an actress who is best known for her work in Ingmar Bergman's films, brings an actor's sensitivity to her work as director. This succeeds superbly for Williams' plays, which feature roles that are an actor's dream.

Blanchet, an actress who is genuinely comfortable on both stage and screen, gives a sensitive and volatile portrayal of a woman who can go from charming vixen to raging virago on the flip of a coin. With her elemental grace and husky voice, Blanchett is a natural for the aging beauty. And Ullmann certainly gets the most out of her star.

Blanchet, however, does not work in a vacuum. She is supported by a magnificent cast. Indeed, this is one of those plays with absolutely no weak spot.

"A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE" -- Photo by Richard Termine.

Joel Edgerton is a sexy and dangerous Stanley. Yet he makes Stanley's vulnerability, his love for Stella and his dependency on her, totally believable. Although Williams never fully explains what keeps Stella married to a man who abuses her, Robin McLeavy works brilliantly with the hints the playwright strews about. If she's stayed by her man through good and bad times up until Blanche arrives at the Kowalski's door, it's not hard to see this Stella taking the baby and taking off in the years to come. Good sex can only go so far.

There's one ray of hope that comes into Blanche's life, and that's Mitch, Stanley's poker-playing buddy. Mitch falls in love with Blanche, but he is no knight in shining armor. Tim Richards gives Mitch just the right amount of clumsy good humor to make this apparent. It's no surprise when the weak and bumbling momma's boy shows himself to lack both courage and conviction.

Paul Charlier's sound design keeps that streetcar ever-present, and his music fills the theater with New Orleans blues. Nick Schlieper's lighting and Ralph Myers set work together seamlessly to create mood.

And most remarkable to the modern theatergoer – all this was done with no unnecessary nudity, no loud boom to get the audience's attention at the beginning of the play and no mention of the ubiquitous f-word.

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