Review Roundup: St. Ann's Warehouse's A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, with Gillian Anderson & Ben Foster
St. Ann's Warehouse, having just opened its "stunning" (New York Magazine) new theater on the waterfront in Brooklyn Bridge Park, presents the American Premiere of the Young Vic's innovative production of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Benedict Andrews, with a cast led by Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster, Corey Johnson and Vanessa Kirby.
With its transparent, revolving set, surrounded by audiences on all four sides, all conversations are overheard, there's nowhere to hide, and the ensuing tragedy purposefully spins toward its inevitable last line.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, New York Times: This brave new "Streetcar," which originated at the Young Vic in London, takes a lot of presumptuous risks, yet most of them pay off, at least for as long as you're watching it. Mr. Andrews, whose wild and divisive production of Jean Genet's "The Maids" was in New York two summers ago, has dared to reset Williams's masterpiece in the 21st century. That means no picturesque French Quarter squalor. Magda Willi's wall-less revolving set - which gives us a drone's-eye-view of every angle of the two rooms shared by Blanche's younger sister, Stella (a terrific Vanessa Kirby) and her husband, Stanley - has the generic starkness of an Ikea-furnished starter apartment for newlyweds. Blanche's tight, short, flashy wardrobe (Victoria Behr is the costume designer) wouldn't look out of place in a television pilot for "Real Housewives of New Orleans." And ear-grating electronic music is blasted between scenes.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: That "Streetcar" crossed the Atlantic to open Sunday at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, and the concept is a near disaster. Critics are usually given the best seats, but from where I was sitting at eye level with the actors, I couldn't see much of Blanche's entrance due to the sink and dish washer blocking my view. I completely missed seeing Stanley's big "Stella!" moment thanks to that same sink and dish washer.
Matt Windman, amNY: Anderson gives a wholly complete performance as Blanche that depicts the tragic character in all of her mental and emotional extremes. Foster's Stanley is appropriately imposing and rough. Vanessa Kirby makes an unusually strong impression as Blanche's younger sister Stella, who is caught in between Blanche and Stanley.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: This is an enjoyable interpretation of an American classic, unfrozen from its typical place in time. If "Streetcar" doesn't expose the emotional crises of its central characters, there's no point watching it. The sterile backdrop here does its job, with all that blankness forcing our attention onto the chaos being played out in its midst.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: The first thing that sets apart Gillian Anderson's riveting Blanche DuBois from many interpretations of the role is how crisp and put-together she looks upon arrival in New Orleans, at a low-rent address called Elysian Fields. Distractedly gesturing behind her for a neighbor to take care of her (fake?) Vuitton luggage, she surveys the scene through outsize Anna Wintour shades, distinctly unimpressed. Poised on towering heels with her souffle of bottle-blond hair and smart beige suit, she looks less like the usual half-broken creature from Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire than a pampered Real Housewife of Laurel, Mississippi, slumming it on a family visit.
David Finkle, Huffington Post: The argument is being made that modernizing A Streetcar Named Desire is a perfectly reasonable approach to new productions. That may be, but if so, the modernizing displayed here isn't the right modernizing. On the other hand, Andrews makes certain that the last line is, as Williams wrote it, the devastating poker statement: "This game is seven-card stud"-with that final "stud" left hanging in the torpid air as Blanche blank-eyed walks away on the arm of a calming institute doctor. Bravo for that.
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Anderson captures Blanche's teetering vulnerability and is quite touching as the character descends into madness. But her overripe posturing and fresh-from-the plantation - or "Hee-Haw" - drawl feel out of place in a production so contemporary that you could call it "A Streetcar Named Ikea."
Linda Winer, Newsday: A modern-dress rethinking of "A Streetcar Named Desire" has arrived on the shores of Brooklyn with splendid advance word from London, especially for Gillian Anderson's Blanche DuBois. What's more, the production comes from the Young Vic, the adventurous British organization that coproduced the stunning, stripped-down revival of "A View from the Bridge," directed by Ivo van Hove, that was a revelation on Broadway last fall.
David Cote, TimeOut NY: There's a fiery revival of Tennessee Williams's great drama buried under the truckload of 1990s regietheater clichés that Benedict Andrews dumps all over St. Ann's Warehouse's playing space. The same Australian director responsible for the flashy and shallow version of Jean Genet's The Maids that starred Cate Blanchett in 2014, Andrews once more apes experimental staging tactics you find in productions from Thomas Ostermeier or Ivo van Hove-minus the intellectual or emotional engagement of either. When Blanche DuBois (Gillian Anderson), briefly comforted by the kindness of Mitch (Corey Johnson), exclaims, "Sometimes-there's God-so quickly!" Andrews bathes his revolving steel set in red light and blares Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." I guess we should be grateful it's not Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah."
Jesse Green, Vulture: Everything in Andrews's fascinating yet too-often-unaffecting interpretation - a transfer from London's New Vic - aims big but in fact points toward smaller ways of understanding the play. To begin with, the Kowalski apartment is built on a long, narrow platform that revolves continuously, sometimes slowly enough that it takes a whole scene to encompass one revolution and sometimes fast enough to induce a certain amount of Blanche-like tipsiness. (The audience at St. Ann's is distributed on all sides of the set, so if faces and action are occasionally blocked by a door or a toilet, they never are for long.) However beautifully carried out, and however apt as a demonstration of the lack of privacy in the Kowalskis' life, the design (by Magda Willi) is prima facie alienating; you study its mechanics, and the smart solutions to the problems it causes, as much as you study the play itself. But this is in keeping with the overall esthetic, which has the meta quality of a contemporary art installation that wants you to notice how boldly it's made and dares you to fathom its contradictions.
Joe McGovern, Entertainment Weekly: Benedict Andrews' daring production of Streetcar (carried over from its acclaimed 2014 staging at London's Young Vic) is decidedly not a large-scale Broadway endeavor. The play is performed intimately in the round and the stage is a narrow rectangle, accurately simulating the cheap Elysian Fields studio where young Stella Kowalski (Vanessa Kirby) lives with her animalistic husband Stanley (Ben Foster). Blanche (Anderson), Stella's older sister, arrives unexpectedly in the first scene, desperately needing a place to stay but snobbish about the living conditions that she sees before her.
Alexis Soloski, Guardian: Gillian Anderson arrives at Elysian Fields in New Orleans looking like a Hitchcock blonde, with terrible desperation just beneath that froideur. She's horrified by the smallness and meanness of the apartment that her sister, Stella (Vanessa Kirby), shares with her husband, the ex-serviceman Stanley (Ben Foster), and by the flimsy curtain separating their bed from hers. This cues a tug-of-war for Stella's sympathies. Anderson's Blanche is the craftier, more manipulative player, but Foster's lunkish Stanley has his muscles and his sexual prowess, advantages he will use to terrible effect at the play's climax.
Photo Credit: Teddy Wolf