Stranger Kindness and Familiar Eeriness
I am having so many wonderful thoughts about Stranger Kindness — it’s not rare for me to enjoy shows — I’m known as quite a Pollyanna among my theatre friends — but Stranger Kindness is truly *exciting*. It’s about the tension between simple language and neat ideals for life and absurdism and the mess that life is. Each “character” in this sort-of Streetcar rendition speaks in their own author;s voice: Blanche speaks lines from Samuel Beckett and Stella lines from Thornton Wider’s Our Town. Mitch, who at first endearing reveals that he really is a capital-letter Nice Guy, quotes a variety of feminist authors. As for Stanley, we hear Brando’s disembodied voice, but never see him.
Each character is really in their own play or text: and this is quite true for the characters in Streetcar. . And is true for so many individuals right now. We are in our own plays, and what if, instead of thinking of lines we’re supposed to say, and thinking ourselves as the lead, what if we took the time to enter someone else’s play, so to speak? What if Pierson and Nunns’ Stella had thought to quote Beckett back to Blanche? Would she have agreed to send her to an institution? Or could the sisters than have commiserated over their shared trauma, or at least would Stella have believed her sister?
Pierson & Nunns give us a more absurd, funnier, but somehow more tragic Streetcar. Mitch spouts feminist quotes, and yet cannot bring himself to fulfill the next step, to not shame Blanche for having slept with numerous men. The casting of a black Mitch and white Blanche adds a different dynamic as the myth of the innocent white woman and scary predatory black man is still unfortunately prevalent. Perhaps Mitch's judgment is swayed not only because of Blanche (a true faded Belle)’s background, but because of anger at the pervasiveness of that myth. Blanche would ha be benefited from feminism, but it may well be the white feminism that so often excludes women of color and often comes at the excuse of black men.
We see Stella more close to accepting and understanding her sister, after all she SAYS goodbye to Grover’s Corners and the almost boringly beautiful, storybook ideals of her Town. She is accepting life’s messiness, but cannot quite believe her sister.
The television screens reflect how we interact with a Famous Work, how it becomes a part of us and we of it, but also how the work itself is mutable through different variations. And I won’t spoil it, but there’s a terrifically fun Easter egg which is not only a in-joke, but add another layer to the production
CONTENT WARNING: ASSAULT
After news about the assault during Last Tango in Paris filming — the unknown use of butter before a rape scene with Brando playing the perpetrator — Brando’s disembodied presence was more haunting but effective: suddenly, there is not only the culpability of Stanley Kowalski but that of Brando himself. The play ends with a gaslight, which is how Bertolucci has responded to accusations of (Maria). And yet we never see a visual iteration of Stanley or Brando, and so in a sense, he has the least amount of power and presence here.
*** WARNING END***
Pierson, Nunns and their wonderful cast and crew somehow convey so many of the failures and successes of language in an hour.I found this truly stunning and wildly thought-provoking.
Stranger Kindness closes this weekend. Visit http://theacmecorporation.org/ for tickets and more information.
Stranger Kindness was, adapted, and arranged by Lola B. Pierson and Stephen Nunns. Starring Sophie Hinderberger, Britt Olsen-Ecker, Jamil Johnson, and Marlon Brando. Set design by Alison Mark, lighting by Eric Nightengale, costumes by Emily Johnson.
I found the review on Odyssey Works very helpful before attending the show.