National Theatre Live: “A Streetcar Named Desire” starring Gillian Anderson

streetcar-posterThere’s no one Hamlet, there’s no one… Lady Macbeth, there’s no one Blanche DuBois.  -Michael Kahn, artistic director (Shakespeare Theatre Company, DC)

Gillian Anderson is one of several middle-aged actresses (she’s American) who have gone “across the pond” to work in the UK, France, etc; another example is Kristin Scott Thomas (who has lately been acting in her adopted second language- French).  I’m sure that many of my regular readers know of Anderson (now 46 y.o.) from The House of Mirth and Bleak House.  While mainstream Hollywood ignores women over 40, even beautiful and talented ones, the stage is another case.  There are more roles in the theater, many have argued, including that of Tennessee Williams’ sensitive, troubled, and ultimately tragic- Blanche DuBois. 


I’ve wanted to do Streetcar for many years.  It’s kind of the next thing I needed to do before I aged myself out of the role.  I had a conversation with [director] Benedict Andrews, and he was interested.  It was a matter of finding a theater.”  -Gillian Anderson

Last month, I saw a filmed version of A Streetcar Named Desire (from London’s Young Vic Theatre) at Landmark Bethesda Row with a small audience.  Many people don’t know about these screenings, but I learned about it via an email newsletter from Landmark.  (I’m a big fan of the movie version; you can read my review here.)  I was surprised to see that Stanley would be played by Ben Foster, the star of one of my all-time favorite films, Liberty Heights.  (Recently, Foster made news with his engagement to actress Robin Wright.)


The play takes a bit of time to get going (as expected), but Anderson is superb throughout.  She knows how to play the different sides of the character: alcohol-dependent, literary, sensitive, witty, etc.  Stella escaped from Belle Reve (the family home) into the brutish arms of Stanley.  Blanche is the one that had to deal with its “ruin” and their dying parents.  (Williams grew up in a highly dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father, repressed/hysterical mother, and younger sister who eventually was put in a mental asylum.  He came out in his mid- 20s and began a healthy relationship with his male partner in his 30s.) 


Blanche DuBois, the fallen Southern belle, has been a character so rich and so complex that bringing her to life is one of acting’s greatest challenges.  Playing her is like climbing Mount Everest, both physically and emotionally demanding.  Actresses talk of losing their voice, suffering bouts of depression or having anxiety attacks while playing the part.  Yet they covet the role.  -Lynn Neary (NPR)

I especially liked the scenes between Blanche and Stella (played by Vanessa Kirby), the little sister who “sells her out” in the end.  Kirby is tall and stunning, yet vulnerable, resembling Michelle Monaghan to a high degree.


Character actor Corey Johnson (you’ve seen him somewhere before) does a fine job as Mitch, Blanche’s awkward/hesitant suitor.  Both Mitch and Blanche, though opposites in many ways, have lost someone they loved as very young people.  Yes, this play is quite heavy, but it’s definitely worth a look or two! 

2 thoughts on “National Theatre Live: “A Streetcar Named Desire” starring Gillian Anderson

  1. Walked past there every night I was in London — and there were always people hoping to pick up returned tix. Neat that you could see it this way!


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