The Kindness of Strangers

As the world continues to navigate the first pandemic in over a century, summer is beginning to give a glimmer of hope as some countries begin to ease or thrust themselves into opening up their doors to business after over two months of moderate to full shutdowns. The art world is all but frozen, with no large gatherings allowed, no shooting of films or series and no theater.

In an effort to bring theater to the masses even as the deadly pandemic threatens everybody’s livelihood, the National Theatre of the UK makes a classic play available to the public for free via streaming every week. This week it was A Streetcar Named Desire, a 2014 production from the Old Vic in London starring Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois. Benedict Andrews’ production takes a good deal of poetic licenses, and changes of scene for the most part are intertwined with the action in the play. The music spans across two or three decades and the characters at times ad-lib Tennessee Williams, unintentionally throwing us off from the ambiance that Williams’ originally created. The actors are well cast in their roles. Vanessa Kirby is superb as Stella, Blanche’s sister (it was refreshing to find her again after her magnificent portrayal of Princess Margaret in The Crown).

The revolving set, sparsely and perfectly conceived by Magda Wills, lends itself easily to the action at Stella and Stanley’s apartment. Ben Foster is a desirable sturdy Stanley, whose rudeness and rawness invade the stage, sparing no cruelty and sexuality. Blanche…oh, Blanche is a vulnerable soul hurt beyond repair, looking for solace in the bottle and the kindness of strangers. Just as Williams’ conceived her, Blanche portrayed by Gillian Anderson shows a deeply wounded sanity that only alcohol and an alternative world made of the past can keep going. Anderson sounded too loud throughout the performance, which I did not notice in the Stella played by Vivien Leigh in the 1951 movie starring Marlon Brando. I am not sure that the actual play makes a point of having a loud Blanche going about her past, her remembrances and her needs, but I may be wrong. In any case, although I see the talent in Ms Anderson and always have, the way in which she comes across as cold in most of her roles is still there, in my view.

The most moving moment of this play as it was generously shared with us by the National Theatre is its ending, with Blanche uttering the most famous line of the play as she is escorted by the psychiatrist to her new home and absorbing every sight around her with the childish innocence of the adult that has lost everything and, in that loss, has also lost herself to the “kindness of strangers”.

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