A Streetcar Named Desire

Cate's great in the classic.

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  • DOMESTIC DISTURBER Blanchett, center, presides over a tense dinner;...

DOMESTIC DISTURBER Blanchett, center, presides over a tense dinner;...

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

How much should we actually like Blanche DuBois? Witness the facts: She’s a lying, vain, delusional, child-molesting, drunken, sponging nutcase who helped drive her closeted gay husband to suicide. She’s monstrous and doomed. But ah, how beautifully she speaks and moves. And, as incarnated by the magnificent Cate Blanchett in the Sydney Theatre Company’s stunning production of A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche seduces us and floods our senses all over again.

Despite the role’s iconic rendering in Elia Kazan’s 1951 film, the luminous, intense performer makes it hers (how serendipitously Blanche nestles into Blanchett). She doesn’t beg for our sympathy; in fact, she emphasizes the vulgar drunkard side of the character, as well as her sadistic toying with Stanley (Edgerton, sporting a Brando-esque nasal drawl) and her callous treatment of sister Stella (McLeavy). Blanchett is typically cast as a flinty, commanding woman—apt for Blanche’s aristocratic hauteur—but she can also tap into deep wells of feral panic and desperation. This version of the character is more than a manhandled magnolia whose scent has faded; it is, to mix the bouquet, a rose with long, strong thorns. When Blanche has her sloppy drunken showdown with Stanley, you may wonder who will overpower whom.

Director Liv Ullmann (yes, the Swedish film star) has conjured a haunting, visceral production drenched in jazz, achieving the perfect balance of style and grit to match Williams’s poetic realism. Ullmann’s Australian cast is, furthermore, one of the most fiercely physical you will see. Their sweaty, kinetic repertoire runs the gamut from scarily believable slaps and punches to lusty tumbles in bed. Going forward, this is the Streetcar to which other revivals should aspire.—David Cote

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BAM Harvey Theater. By Tennessee Williams. Dir. Liv Ullmann. With Cate Blanchett, Joel Edgerton, Robin McLeavy. 3hrs 15mins. One intermission.

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