A Theatre Mirror Reviews - "A Streetcar Named Desire"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark

"A Streeetcar Named Desire"

by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Laura Schrader

Set Design by Laura Schrader
Lighting Design by Daniell Brennan
Costume Design by Wendy Nystrom
Original Music by Jeri Sykes
Properties by Pattiy Lieber, Susan Harrington
Hair Design by Anna Brown
Assistant Director Tonee Jordan
Producer Sandi McDonald
Stage Managers Monica Bruno & Tonee Jordan

Stella..............Noel Armstrong
Stanley..............Angus Beasley
Mitch..................James Laing
Blanche.............Lorna McKenzie
Collector.........Brian Giacometti
Neighbor Woman....Susan Harrington
Nurse.................Patty Lieber
Doctor..................John Mills
Eunice..............Mary O'Donnell
Steve..............Donald Pinnelle
Street Musician.......Barbara Hunt
Pablo.............Richard Italiano

Let me first digress to make a statement of personal opinion: I do not believe a director's job is to "find and be true to the heart" of the text. Authors and playwrights may think so, but I don't. A director's job is to see to it that the cast allows the audience to see and understand that text as a contemporary truth, since it is Always "Now" when a play is being performed. Making a play out of a lot of words on paper is always a group creation, and directors have come to act as that link between performers and audience that makes the show live --- without distractions --- and, if possible, to make even old plays new. And to my mind that is exactly what Laura Schrader and her stunning cast have done with Tennessee Williams' classic.

The cast here all read a shade younger than one might expect. That makes the uncomprmised physical joy that Stella Kowalski (Noel Armstrong) has for her handsome husband Stanley (Angus Beasley) completely believable. And Stanley here is not the unlettered animal that Stella's older sister Blanche (Lorna McKenzie) paints him. He and his poker-buddy Mitch (James Laing) were "in the war together" --- there is a hint of the Marines about Beasley --- and Kowalski rose to master sergeant in that male-bonding experience. These four are the center of the play, though the director has seen to it that everyone in her cast gets a genuine moment of spotlight as that story unwinds.

Just as Stanley tries to keep his buddy from the arms of a scheming woman, Blanche finds it hard to believe her sister could throw over the genteel pretensions of Southern femininity for life with Stanley. But then, Blanche is a liar. She can protest that "my limit is one" while gulping her third shot of whiskey, and it is not quite clear whether she lies to herself, or that she believes the lies that paint her life less ugly than facts would indicate.

Those hard, ugly facts are jarringly apparent in the first scene after a long first act in which truth has been in doubt. Once the harsh light of reality shatters her attempts at dignity, Blanche snaps; her lies suddenly defy reality, and her doom is sealed. Those genteel Southern pretensions disappear with an almost audible snap of truth, leaving permanent scars.

In this production I heard --- or maybe just noticed --- whole speeches, scenes and details that I never noticed before. At some points, if you can remain coldly objective, Daniell Brennan's lights will dim almost imperceptibly, isolating a monologue of memory though never calling attention to the effect. It's the equivalent on stage of a movie close-up. At other times, people "merely swelling scenes" react quite genuinely to what they see and hear. The neighbors in this Quarter of New Orleans are an earthy lot, and thin walls and gossip makes everyone's life public property.

It is the job of a director to make the play, any play, interesting and new to its audience. That's exactly what Laura Schrader and her cast and crew have done with "A Streetcar Named Desire".


"A Streetcar Named Desire" (6 - 21 June)
Eliot Hall, 7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN MA

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