In Berlin, there is no streetcar called Desire, but there is a streetcar’s stop called Freiheit. I would not call Australian director Benedict Andrews’ approach to Tennessee Williams’s A streetcar named Desire free – in spite of a series of internal trimming in the original text, the story is told more or less as written. The problem lies rather in the apparently intentional disfigurement of a dramatic play into dark comedy.
As portrayed here, Blanche Dubois is a repellent, vulgar trollop who sprays fragrance in her intimate parts. Of course, there is something beastly in the bottom of what Blanche is – but bringing this upfront goes against the whole Tennessee Williams’ aesthetics. In many of his plays, the leading character is a typical product of colonial areas (such as Louisianna) – the lady of the plantation house brought up with all kind of refinements against a backdrop of violence and abandon (in the moral sense of the word). These little ladies were made from the same raw material their slave-owner and warlord fathers and brothers, but a misstep into the wild side of their natures rarely had a happy ending – sort of butterflies caught in spiderwebs covered with filth, living relics of a pallid paradise of genteelness lost in the strong colours of real world. Therefore, showing Blanche in such an ungracious way not only makes her a manipulating hyprocrite, but also unbalance the play, since Stella, in comparison, seems to be a paragon of dignity and politeness (even if her costumes suggest rather a hooker). This misconception is a fatal blow to the whole purpose of the play – reduced to a cynical display of dialogues with double meaning with regular intervals of prop destruction, beercan throwing, disgust-provoking episodes with food etc.
In any case, one must always acknowledge that this is a play tricky to update – the concept has some interesting ideas – such as beginning on the bare stage, with all sorts of equipment visible to the audience, including the street door, through which enters Blanche. Her presence brings a black curtain, behind which props disappear and from which they appear, generally to be placed in a revolving circle on the center. The speed with which this circle spins varied according to the scene – a solution particularly effective for the scene before the birthday “party”. However, most scenic devices and displays were self-conscious and did not seem to stem from an effort to highlight anything in the text, but rather the production’s own “cleverness”.
Fortunately, the Schaubühne company has a group of gifted actor who know how to invest the concept with spirit and keep interest going even when one disagrees with everything else. It is difficult to say anything about Jule Böwe’s approach to Blanche – she is faithful to the directorial choices, plunges in the grotesque required from her and is not afraid of going larger than life. Although she looks younger than role as written by Tennessee Williams, maybe she could work from small paintbrush and produce a subtler Blanche in the right context if that were required from her. I do not know either if Lea Dräger is properly cast as Stella – she looks like a teenager and I am not sure if the character is that young. At first, I had the impression that Lars Eidinger was too “elegant” for Stanley Kowalski. Later he proved capable of the required violence – but somehow the blutness seemed always rather studied, as if the role were a bit distant from his nature and the good results were rather a result of technique than of natural attitude (what is praiseworthy nonetheless). Maybe because the direction let the role of Mitch unbothered, Jörg Hartmann had more opportunity to build something believable. The closing scene is the play’s most famous one and, due to a series of miscalculations, it did not work and maybe the perfunctory acting (or casting) for the doctor and nurse parts have something to do with that.