On Double X, Slate's relentlessly smart site for women's issues, Margaret Wheeler Johnson alleges that feminism has screwed with Blanche DuBois.
Forget about the irony of the alleged perpetrator for a second, and think of the victim.
Is there a greater crime possible against a character in American theater?
The greatest of all American tragedies — the rape of beauty by force — has been sullied, if such an allegation is true, and if such a double negative is possible.
Stanley’s attack is the second rape attempted on Blanche in a single
evening, following the unwanted advance of her recently disillusioned
suitor, Mitch. [Tennessee] Williams’s stage directions specify that she “sinks to
her knees,” allowing Stanley to carry her “inert figure” to the bed.
Her reaction inevitably raises the question of why she doesn’t fight
back. Has she just come to believe that she deserves it, or does she
actually deserve it?placeAd2(commercialNode,'midarticleflex',false,'')
The BAM production elides this feminist’s dilemma by calling into
question whether this is rape at all. In [Liv] Ullmann’s version, both
Blanche and Stanley are drunk off their rockers by the time Stanley
pushes Blanche onto the bed, giving the scene, at worst, the ambiguity
of date rape. “It is clear this is something [Blanche] may want,”
Ullmann said at a recent Q&A at BAM. The director’s main goal seems
to be to rescue Blanche from total passivity. Of course, this creates
the problem that if she wasn’t raped, she later lied to her sister and
said she was. But in Ullmann’s version, at least Blanche remains in
Fundamentally, and interestingly in this context, the complaint about feminism as a movement seems to be that it doesn't know when to stop.
It's true that men far too often use force in sex, for instance, but then feminist Andrea Dworkin famously complained about the nature of sex itself, arguing that (according to Wikipedia):
"Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men's contempt for women."
In 2009, has feminism — or a dramatic attempt at an expression of such — gone too far again?
Regardless of the answer to that question, the good news, everyone fortunate enough to have seen the production agrees, is Cate Blanchett.
In the words of the great John Lahr, in a recent New Yorker:
Blanche is the Everest of modern American drama, a peak of
psychological complexity and emotional range, which many stars have
attempted and few have conquered. Of the performances I’ve seen in
recent years, Jessica Lange’s lacked theatrical amperage, Natasha
Richardson’s was too buff, and Rachel Weisz’s, in this year’s
overpraised Donmar Warehouse production in London, was too callow. The
challenge for the actress taking on Blanche lies in fathoming her
spiritual exhaustion, her paradoxical combination of backbone and
collapse. Blanche has worn herself out, bearing her burden of guilt and
grief, and facing down the world with a masquerade of Southern gaiety
and grace. She is looking—as Williams himself was when he wrote the
play—for “a cleft in the rock of the world that I could hide in.”
Blanchett, with her alert mind, her informed heart, and her lithe, patrician silhouette, gets it right from the first beat.