human behavior

A Street Car Named Desire in Sydney

Posted in Health & Medicine, Reviews, Sydney by humanb on September 26, 2009

Streetcar I had the pleasure of seeing the Sydney Theatre Company’s faithful performance of A Street Car Named Desire on Friday. Cate Blanchett is clearly serious about her craft and deserves respect for her commitment to advancing the reputation and quality of Australian theatre.

The show has enjoyed sold out performances for a reason: The set is a perfect replication of a suffocating two-bedroom apartment in a drab two-story, inner-city tenement. The performances of Cate Blanchett and Joel Edgerton in particular, were inspired, and their accents believable. Edgerton deserves particular praise for convincingly embodying the classic American character of Stanley Kowalski, with his barely-contained insecurity, sexual frustration and violence.

This is a play for the non-theatre-goer as much as the connoisseur.

It’s a happy coincidence that I saw the play during my psychiatry rotation. Blanche DuBois is a decidedly more sympathetic character to me today, than when I saw the film on VHS in Hawaii in the summer of 1994.

The Blanche DuBois of the play as depicted on Friday, appeared to me a genteel and gentle, fading Southern beauty. A product of her time and place, she certainly had her prejudices and pretensions, but it was her deep insecurity-driven vanity and mental fragility that defined her. She was, what the DSM-IV would call, histrionic, one of the Cluster B personality types.

Histrionic Personality Disorder is seen as a pattern of excessive emotional behavior and attention seeking approaches with others.  They are often uncomfortable if they are not the center of attention and may use physical appearance, such as a provocative manner of dress, or explicit sexuality as a means to gain this attention.  They often see relationships as more intimate than they really are and are seen as moving very quickly once they become involved with someone (e.g., they may see a person they just met as their best friend or a person they dated once or twice as their future spouse).

Blanche’s personality disorder was most likely the reason for her supposed nymphomania, and must have been comorbid with an affective disorder – most likely a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Her GAD most likely evolved from a post-traumatic stress disorder following her childhood fiance’s suicide, for which she felt responsible. It was this anxiety disorder that facilitated her nervous breakdown. It was her rape by Stanley on the eve of his first child’s birth that precipitated it.

Blanche’s persistent snobbery with respect to Stanley made him a sympathetic character in the first act – her disapprobation of her sister’s choice seeming shallow and bigoted. It was fascinating to watch the slow revealing of Stanley’s own antisocial personality disorder in the second act, as our sympathies shifted to Blanche. And in between these two larger-than-life characters with their respective personality disorders, was Stella, the character who never garnered our sympathy, and who though perfectly sane and appropriately behaved, proved to have the weakest mind.

4 out of 5 stars.


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