a streetcar named desire

NT Live and Young Vic Setting Trends for Modern Audiences

Last month, National Theatre Live, the phenomenal program that streams live tapings of some of the hottest British theatre events to international cinemas, presented the Young Vic’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire. It starred Gillian Anderson as Blanche and Ben Foster as Stanley. The Young Vic certainly provided Tennessee Williams’ American classic with a modern, innovative lens. Small changes to the script and set allowed for a contemporary setting, as opposed to the its original post-Depression timeframe. Seating was in the round, and the minimalist apartment revolved slowly throughout the entire play, giving the action a bit of a revolving, gyre-like momentum. We’ve seen spinning sets on Broadway before, most recently You Can’t Take It With You, Act One, and Bullets Over Broadway but none that incorporated the motion in the entirety of the piece and played such an enormous influence on the overall tone as this. Also lending a youthful voice to the modern adaptation is a contemporary rock soundtrack that plays in between scenes, as characters race around the apartment swigging alcohol and taking baths to show the passage of time.

Ben Foster and Gillian Anderson as Stanley and Blanche

 But more interesting than th film has been incorporating the theatre world. Film and theatre are two very different mediums, and we could spend a whole ‘nother 2000-word post talking about what type of language each one uses and how adding a close-up shot to a theatre performance can change the mood and message of a scene entirely. My case in point is another NT Live screening of Coriolanus, where a close-up of Tom Hiddleston’s face during Tullus Aufidius’s (Hadley Fraser) bromantic Act 4 speech made the cinema audience erupt in laughter. The actual live stage audience had no such reaction.

There are huge strides being made in marrying film and theatre. NT Live is screening its first American show, Of Mice and Men next month. It’s not the first time a Broadway show has been filmed. In fact, every show is filmed and preserved in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The collection is only open to academics and fancy folks. Ever since learning about the collection in high school, I felt that the collection should be open to the public, or that there should be at least regular screenings from the collection (monthly?), even if they charge a few bucks as an NYPL fundraiser. If they’re worried about people opting to wait for the taping instead of paying the $100 Broadway ticket, fine, put a two-year-after-closing-date waiting period on those beauties. But you’re seriously gonna tell me I need a PhD in theatre to be able to see Patti Lupone in Anything Goes? Or Bernadette Peters in Into the Woods? C’mon, NYPL…

Memphis and Jekyll and Hyde were recently filmed for cinema audiences. Live at Lincoln Center brought us a fantastic Sweeney Todd. This New York Times article reports that the reason why more filmed performances aren’t being made is a hold-back on union negotiations. But where there’s a will there’s a way. And if the packed house at BAM’s ENCORE screening of Streetcar had anything to say, it’s that there’s definitely a will.

Another interesting incorporation of film into theatre comes from the team at The Young Vic, which creates short films directly related to their most popular productions. They’re called YV Shorts, and they explore different sides of the play, usually in the vein of a prologue. They’re not exactly for marketing purposes (they seem to have been released after the productions have ended). Instead they are there to provoke discussion, to promote a relationship between film-making and stage performance, and to explore the characters and themes of the works. They’re already had shorts featuring Patrick Stewart and Jude Law, and Streetcar fans can expect to see Gillian Anderson as Blanche at Belle-reve before arriving at Stella’s apartment in “The Departure”.

From “The Departure”

Dear theatre/film-makers,

More of this please and thank you.

Upcoming NT Live Screenings include Of Mice and Men, Skylight, and an Encore screening of Frankenstein.

A Streetcar Named Desire

I wrote a review for Broadway Informer for this season’s revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. Here it is!

This latest production of  A Streetcar Named Desire is severely underrated. Many critics have had visions of Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando (the stars of the 1951 film) and Cate Blanchett (who played Blanche in the 2009 revival at BAM) dancing in their heads and could not appreciate the production with a fresh eye.

Yes, this Streetcar takes a departure with its multiracial cast. Produced by the same company that brought an all-black Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Broadway in 2008, Streetcar’s ethnic ensemble includes Nicole Ari Parker as Blanche, Blair Underwood as Stanley, and Daphne Rubin-Vega as Stella. Parker’s Blanche was revelatory. Her strength in the role made sense, as she had lived alone for many years harboring her secrets before coming to Stanley and Stella’s home. Only now does her resolve begin to crumble, and it is a sight to behold.

The other cast members also deliver solid performances. Underwood’s Stanley (née Kowalski, as the production excises references to his Polish background) is equal parts menacing and captivating (he also looks great shirtless). And Rubin-Vega takes a capable turn as Stella, providing the balance to Blanche and Stanley’s extremes.

The very existence of this production is fabulous. A recent survey of Broadway and leading nonprofit theater companies found that in the past five theater seasons, only 13.2% and 3.5% of African Americans and Latinos were employed. This production helps to alleviate that problem. It also gives deserving actors an opportunity they would not have had otherwise. Far more than a novelty production, this revival of Streetcar is an exciting production in its own right, bringing a new and refreshing take on a classic.

Favorite scene/song: The birthday scene. The tension was high, and I got a real sense of the dynamic in Stanley’s household.
What is the show about? The tragic destruction of a Southern belle when she goes to stay at her sister and brother-in-law’s home.
Who is this show for? Theatergoers and Williams fans interested in a new take on Streetcar, as well as young audience members needing an introduction to a classic.
What’s good/bad? Besides the acting described above, the direction by Emily Mann, and the set design by Eugene Lee is great. I also enjoyed the production’s attention to bringing out the humor of the play. The only quibble I had was Blanche and Stanley’s pivotal scene (those who are familiar with the play know what I’m talking about). Despite all the build-up, it had high shock value and not as much emotional impact.
What happened at the Stage Door? We had to wait a bit longer than usual because the director was giving the cast notes. Almost everyone came out to sign playbills and take photos, and they were all very kind and gracious.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: