A Streetcar Named Desire -- Theater Review

Actress Liv Ullmann's numerous film collaborations with Ingmar Bergman serve her well in her staging of "A Streetcar Named Desire," which has just landed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a limited engagement after sold-out runs in Sydney and Washington. The veteran actress has delivered a knockabout production that beautifully captures the shifting emotional states of Tennessee Williams' classic play, and her expert guidance has elicited sterling performances not only from Cate Blanchett as Blanche DuBois but also by the entire little-known ensemble.

A Sydney Theatre Company production, this "Streetcar" returns Blanchett to the same venue where she gave an acclaimed performance as Hedda Gabler a few seasons back.

The Oscar winner delivers a haunting turn as Blanche, who we first see huddling at the corner of the stage bathed in a soothing white light. But that opening image belies the eventual fierceness of her interpretation, which concentrates less on the character's Southern belle affectations than on the fractured steeliness underneath. This Blanche seems a worthy foil to the animalistic Stanley, at least until the final shattering moments, staged with more visceral power than any production in recent memory.

As Stanley, Joel Edgerton faces the usual daunting task of trying to erase memories of Marlon Brando's iconic performance, but he's more than up to it. Strappingly fit and handsome, he well conveys the sensual qualities that hold Stanley's wife, Stella, in such thrall as well as the air of physical menace that is periodically unleashed in shocking outbursts. But he also has a fine feel for Stanley's playful, comic side as well as the underlying vulnerability in his passionate love for his wife.

Equally fine is Robin McLeavy's down-to-earth Stella, who in this version seems more than ever the voice of reason, and Tim Richards' touching Mitch, whose final expressions of wounded outrage toward the deceitful Blanche are all the more powerful for the boyish enthusiasm and courtliness that has preceded it.

Although Ullmann could have sped up the pace a little -- the show runs more than three hours -- her staging is physically impeccable. The sets, costumes and lighting evocatively bring to mind her stated influence of the paintings of Edward Hopper, with vintage New Orleans-style blues employed to superbly atmospheric effect.

Venue: BAM Harvey Theater, New York (Through Dec. 20)
Production: Sydney Theatre Company
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Joel Edgerton, Robin McLeavey, Tim Richards, Mandy McElhinney, Michael Denkha, Morgan David Jones, Russell Kiefel, Elaine Hudson, Gertraud Ingeborg Playwright: Tennessee Williams
Director: Liv Ullmann
Set designer: Ralph Myers
Costume designer: Tess Schofield
Lighting designer: Nick Schlieper
Composition/sound designer: Paul Charlier
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