Jul 212015

UN TRAMWAY NOMMÉ DÉSIRL’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.


Dec 302013

A Southern movie in the way that Beasts of the Southern Wild is a Southern movie. But the signifiers of “the South” have changed from what they were in the past. No longer the cottonfields, plantation and oak groves of Gone with the Wind. No longer the sexual squalor and family drama of Baby Doll or A Streetcar Named Desire. The South of these films is water–a river, a bayou, a lake, the Gulf–each teeming with life but dangerous. Each is full of snakes and alligators or liable to flood. “The South” here is poverty perched on the line separating land from the water and ready any moment to be overrun.

The watery landscapes and the fact that both films follow children who navigate a difficult adult world they understand imperfectly recalls The Adventures of Hukleberry Finn. And yet, the celebratory tone here is very different from Twain’s critique. The other point in the constellation is obviously the “Wild Palms” segment of William Faulkner’s If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem. (cf. too Winter’s Bones and the first season of Justified; in which the “South” is signified by poverty in a very different landscape.)

Oct 122013

The Beav hated this movie, and I get it. There is darkness here. And yet, I really liked it.

Like To Rome with Love, this movie has more going on than appears on its surface: in this case, a running allusion and update of A Streetcar Named Desire by way of Cate Blanchett’s recent turn as Blanche on Broadway. There is also the final revelation that remakes what had come before in interesting ways.

Is it high art? No. Is it among the best movies I’ve seen this year? No. But Blanchett is incredible as Jasmine and the script is generally strong. So I enjoyed it.