Who’d think that the day would come when one would ache to escape from a performance of Tennessee Williams’s masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire, in a production this degrading and detestable? What with Edward Hall’s inept direction and worse casting, and, further, the ancillary French Quarter denizens and their doings so poorly imagined, there is no oasis for eye or ear. Even the usually good Robert Brill’s setting is deficient in various ways. Natasha Richardson, always a dubious actress, here proves scandalous. In the first few minutes, she has already shot all—which is to say both—her histrionic devices, consisting vocally of baby talk and simpering whines;on the rare occasions she tries for more, she waxes incoherent. Moreover, she looks far too soignée for the damaged Blanche,and even her tallness militates againstwhat little true vulnerability she canmuster. John C. Reilly could make a prettyfair Mitch, but is totally miscast as Stanley: no looks, youth, charisma, or anything else that could arouse the passion of even as drab a Stella as Amy Ryan: an adequate actress but of no appeal whatsoever. Nor is the Mitchof Chris Bauer able to elicit more than a smidgen of empathy, if that. And what sort of director would have Mitch and Blanche return from a date onto the second-story terrace, when the Kowalskis, with whom she is staying, live on the ground floor?
For older theatergoers, who cannot but recall the marvelous original casts of stage and screen, I can only grieve. But even more’s the pity for younger audiences who, from this fiasco, cannot grasp the greatness of the work, at an equally inestimable loss to the audience and to the author. The one—hardly needed—lesson to be derived is that no work, of whatever genius, is proof against sabotage. Anyone living near the graves of Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, or Kim Hunter should watch out for rotary earthquakes.
By Tennessee Williams
at Studio 54