The highlight of my trip to New York was seeing Streetcar Named Desire in its new venue, the rather amazing St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. I’d seen the play during its triumphant run at the Young Vic, and watching the luminously beautiful Gillian Anderson come a slow, Southern cropper had been harrowing but mesmerising. She was even better this time in the bigger space.
The old warehouse with its huge, high ceilings, exposed brick and big windows out onto the East River is not an obvious pairing with the steamy New Orleans heat of the story but the revolving set, with its pathetic, starter-home love nest featuring recognisable Ikea furniture, soon becomes all you can see.
Watching the story for the second time, I was struck again by how much the story still resonates. We might once have hoped that a woman would no longer need to depend financially or emotionally on a man, in the desperate way that Blanche does. But, though we’ve come a long way, all it takes is a few years of homemaking or child-rearing to throw a woman onto the defensive, subservient back foot economically speaking. We don’t often get equal pay at the best of times. If you’ve been out of the workplace for a while, or been at home, heaven help you if you suddenly have to start making ends meet on your own again.
Blanche has not been brought up to support herself at all and, once the house, Beau Reve, and its land is gone, she is destitute, with a massive drink and shopping problem to support. She throws her cap at mummy’s boy Mitch but, when even this fails, a stab at her sister’s man is her last, disastrous attempt to make a living the only way she knows how. Then what do you do with a woman no one wants? The lunatic asylum is the easy answer.
What happens to women nowadays, when they are unwanted and broken down by life? Most of the lunatic asylums have closed. I would like to say that society is kinder, now, to girls like Blanche who are their own worst enemies and have failed to make any of their relationships stick. But I’m not sure that it’s true.