Blanche the tormented focus of a fractured world

Miyagi's outstanding 'logos and pathos' staging of 'Streetcar' captures true characters

by Nobuko Tanaka

In this production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the classic Tennessee Williams drama of human relationships, gone are all the hues and shades of human relationships bar one — the relationship of its “heroine,” Blanche DuBois, to the fragmented and fragmenting world she inhabits. As staged by director Satoshi Miyagi and the Ku Na’uka (Towards Science) Theatre Company he founded in 1990, all the other characters are mere ciphers in Blanche’s unresolvable, unending daily drama of the conflict between her need for security, however confining, and her lust for life.

The center of this production is not the melancholy Blanche that directors typically portray, a woman who has come down in the world and is living in the past. Instead, Miyagi’s Blanche, played by actress Mikari, is a woman “of a certain age,” living in reduced circumstances but still driven to experience life in all its vivid, clashing fullness. As the director puts it in the program: “A woman fallen to ruin is the general image of Blanche, but in my production I would like to focus on the power of her desire to survive and experience life — to show that Desire [the streetcar Blanche takes to her sister Stella's house] is the opposite of Death.”

To do this, to show the world through the eyes and fragile mind of Blanche alone, Miyagi uses, to marvelous effect, his unique “logos and pathos (speaker and mover)” dramatic method, in which two actors play each role — one acting; one at the back of the stage narrating. Here, however, though all the other parts are logos/pathos, Blanche both acts and speaks, so focusing the production entirely through her.

As the play begins, we see Blanche through a thin transparent curtain as she dozes on a bed, almost as if she’s in the Deep South plantation house she lost through some unstated ill-fortune. In fact, she’s in a hotel room in a town she moved to from there, where she’s a schoolteacher by day and, by night, sells her body to feed her lust for life and her spendthrift ways.

Once the thin veil of the curtain opens, we begin to see what Miyagi terms her “delusionary world.” And this is not, as in so many other “Streetcars,” an interpersonal, social drama with Blanche as the key character.

After she’s sacked for dating a young student, Blanche takes the Desire streetcar to her sister Stella’s small apartment. She moves in there, hoping to start her life over. The people she encounters there — Stella, Stanley and his friend Mitch — remain, in this production, external characters, for Miyagi’s direction is insistent that the play is about what is happening in Blanche’s mind. This otherness is also captured wonderfully in Keiko Harada’s original accompanying music for piano, accordion and violin.

Under Miyagi’s direction, the cast members (save Mikari) play their roles devoid of facial expression. Their movements are exaggerated, in order to personify their characters as Blanche perceives them. Thus Stanley (Koichi Otaka) sometimes makes loud noises by throwing things or stamping his feet, so representing Blanche’s impression of the vulgarity and violence of his nature — even as she lusts after him despite all the dangers that presents. Then, when trusting, hardworking — and dull — Mitch (Ittoku Abe) appears on stage, he’s carried on like a piece in a board game, just as all the characters are mere pieces in Blanche’s life game.

In this hugely imaginative fiction, as to the deranged mind, it appears that the central player is the only sane one. By the end, though, Blanche’s quiet lunacy is clear to see. As she swings between two men — dependable Mitch and dangerous Stanley — she finally loses her balance.

The staging reverses. A logos takes over Blanche’s crazed speech while the others begin to use their own voices as she descends into madness before being taken off to a mental hospital.

Outstanding in this outstanding production is Mikari’s tremendous portrayal of Blanche as both self-absorbed psychotic and greedily human woman — a performance that will certainly become a precious moment in Japanese theater history. Any lover of theater should move mountains to get to the Suzunari Theater in Shimokitazawa and see this actress and this performance.