A Young Vic production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Benedict Andrews, came to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. Having seen Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, another Young Vic production two years ago, which featured a frenetically rotating house set (by Ian McNeill), I was weary when I read that here again the house set (by Magda Willi) rotated. But it was fine; with the seating on all four sides, the house moved slowly most of the time to allow the audience on all sides to see the action fully. The production was intensely dramatic, gripping for sure, almost to the extent of exhausting the audience. I was however left with a mixed feeling. For one, Gillian Anderson as Blanche, praised by critics, was for me far too frenetic; her overdone Southern accent and her histrionic actions to match it at once stood out against the rest of the cast and at the same time set the tone of the entire play by dominating it. The action was set in a characterless, almost antiseptic, skeletal house, as dictated no doubt by the present day the play was placed; I missed the sense of the locale, the sultry air and languid squalor of New Orleans’ French Quarter, an integral element in Williams’ creation; and, so, Anderson’s Blanche also disturbed me in her lack of the ethereal otherworldliness I expected of the character. In saying this, I am remembering the two earlier productions (aside from the 1951 Elia Kazan film featuring Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, and Kim Hunter): one in 2005 at Studio 54, directed by Edward Hall and featuring Natasha Richardson, John C. Reilly, and Amy Ryan, and the other in 2009 at BAM Harvey, directed by Liv Ullman and featuring Cate Blanchett, Joel Edgerton, and Robin McLeavy; both were very impressive and the latter, in particular, is still vivid in my mind. Pervasive cruelty in Blanche but above all in Stanley’s physical brutality disturbed me almost painfully. A part of this effect had to the proximity of the actors to the audience; they deployed the floor around the house, brushing the knees of the first-row spectators. But I alsowondered if I am getting too old to take violence enacted on stage.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
Vacation means vacating, that is to say, leaving home, customarily in town, to spend time elsewhere, more often in the countryside which conventionally suggests the seashore or the mountains, sometimes abroad, in order to escape the seasonal discomfort like the summer heat and winter cold. Vacationers go to live in a country house or a beach house, owned or rented, or else stay in an inn or a hotel. Underlying the notion of vacation is the urban living, which developed into a norm with the rise of the industrialization. The more strict sense of vacation, dictionaries explain, is a scheduled period of closing the shop as applied to schools and law courts. The term vacation, meaning the leave of absence from a regular occupation is a more recent usage, and it is a notion integral in that of the wage, also a product of industrial revolution, by which a worker is paid by the hour rather than by the output of the work. Since work by wage is bound to be tedious in so far as it is the result of the division of labor and imposes a high degree of repetition and monotony, work came to mean something onerous which requires the worker to “take a break” from now and then to provide a respite, to recuperate. So, vacation in contemporary usage came to mean, especially for wage earners, an escape not so much from any climatic discomfort but from boredom of work and as such a necessity verging on obligation.
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
I enjoy coffee every morning at breakfast. After finishing the fruits, customarily an apple sliced thin and covered with Greek yogurt, I take a few sips before starting the plate of bacon, egg, and toast, and they are piping hot and very good. I have it in large white mug, the size of the French café au lait bowl. So, after cleaning up the plate, there are always a few sips left at the bottom of the mug, by then no longer hot. But those last sips are always the best. Dark brown against the white walls of the mug, they are beautiful to the eye and, lukewarm, they are more acutely sensed by the taste bud. This is one of those trifles in life that gives such a tremendous joy and there is nothing trifling about it.