L’Espace Go, an experimental theatre that takes risks, staged A Streetcar Named Desire this past winter (trailer here). Their production was defined by two choices: first, an actor playing Tennessee Williams sits in a corner and reads the stage directions aloud, and second, the sexual content of the play is performed without the censorship that the director believes has hobbled previous productions.
Concretely, uncensored sex means:
- the male and female actors are repeatedly nude.
- sex and masturbation are acted out overtly whenever they are hinted at in the text. These simulations are extended and, in a shower scene between Stanley and Stella, only a hair’s breadth from actuality.
- Blanche’s rape at the end of the play is prefigured by an invented scene of gay sex between Stanley and Tennessee Williams.
- audio recordings of the actors discussing the sexual content of the piece are played before the curtain rises and during the intermission.
I’m happy to have seen this production, and it got good reviews, but the only thing I really liked was the actor reading the stage directions (and toward the end, stealing a few characters’ lines). I don’t think this device was put to good use here, but it was interesting and has potential. The rest, however, created a spectacle that I think was at odds with the content of the play.
Desire, flirtation, seduction, Streetcar is full of these. What’s more the characters’ hopes and needs are expressed through these desires, especially those that are impossible to realize in the context of their lives. The obstacles they face makes their desire meaningful.
None of this comes through in Espace Go’s production. With sex made to be the only thing that matters and the various obstacles characters face reduced simply to convention or prudery, many relationships didn’t make sense at all, and those that did seemed a shadow of what they should have been. Blanche’s preoccupations with respectability and money didn’t read at all, and her dream life seemed something like a pose without substance.
By going all-in on the proposition that Streetcar is a play about transgressive sex full-stop, the director winds up demonstrating how little in the play can be accounted for by sex alone. That is something I hadn’t realized with quite so much clarity before.
On a separate note, I saw this production near the end of the run, and the actors just looked battered. I think the level of exposure they faced on that stage took a toll.