Under the bold but misguided direction of University of Miami (Florida) law professor Marc A. Fajer, the Theater of the American South’s Summer 2012 production of A Streetcar Named Desire downplays the poetry and accentuates the violence in Mississippi playwright and poet Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams’1948 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, and takes the violence over the top.
Ex-U.S. Army veteran Stanley Kowalski (played by Raleigh actor Jason Daniel Sharp) is trapped in a un-air-conditioned two-room apartment in the French Quarter of New Orleans, circa 1947. He shares those cramped quarters — claustrophobically recreated by technical director and scenic designer Chris Bernier — with his mousy wife, Stella (Clemmons, NC native Lilly Nelson), and his condescending sister-in-law, fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois (Raleigh actress Betsy Thompson Henderson), who still clings to her aristocratic pretensions despite having lost the family’s ancestral home — Belle Reve in Laurel, MS — to creditors and being fired from her job as a high school English teacher for having an affair with one of her students.
Tennessee Williams meant for Stanley be a crude, lower-class, but upward-aspiring American ethnic of Polish descent and for his and Stella’s apartment to be a pressure cooker, but I seriously doubt if he meant for Stanley to explode into physical violence — smashing crockery, manhandling Stella, throttling and eventually raping Blanche — as often as he does in the current Theater of the American South presentation of A Streetcar Named Desire. Indeed, the violence that Hurricane Stanley inflicts on his sister-in-law and wife and their meager possessions necessitates lengthy scene changes that dissipate dramatic tension.
Betsy Henderson and Jason Sharp are the Beauty and the Beast of this Streetcar, but Theater of the American South’s visceral retelling of Williams’ Southern Gothic drama is no fairy tale, and Stanley never stops bellowing and smashing things. Meanwhile, Betsy Henderson plays Blanche with conviction in frizzy platinum-blonde wigs that give Miss DuBois the look of a Flapper of the 1920s, not a shabby-genteel refugee — in 1947 — from a nightmarish past that includes an unfortunate early marriage to a callow youth who killed himself rather than admit his homosexuality, a seemingly never-ending succession of family financial setbacks and fatal illnesses, and increasing alcoholism and promiscuity.
Blanche still thinks of herself as some sort of social butterfly — and Stanley is obsessed with exposing her shameful secrets and pulling off her wings, one by one. First, he wrecks her budding romantic relationship with his old Army buddy Harold Mitchell (Raleigh actor Jason Peck) by wising up mama’s-boy “Mitch” to some of Blanche’s seamiest indiscretions. Then, when Stella enters the hospital to give birth to their child, Stanley takes advantage of her absence from the apartment to rape Blanche (although — just before the blackout — director Marc Fajer has Blanche inexplicably reach up to draw her rapist nearer). But the final indignity comes post-partum when Stanley — with Stella’s acquiescence — contrives to have Blanche involuntarily committed to a shabby state mental institution.
As the gentlemanly Doctor and burly no-nonsense Nurse (vividly sketched by Doug Nydick and Page Purgar) are leading her away, Blanche glares at Stanley and Stella and snarls defiantly, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” That’s hardly the benediction of a poor lost soul finally broken by circumstances — and rude, crude Stanley — and not the way that any audience should remember A Streetcar Named Desire.
SECOND OPINION: May 16th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/theater-of-the-american-souths-a-streetcar-named-desire/Content?oid=3068983. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the May 10th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/05/tas-2012-season-includes-a-streetcar-named-desire-and-a-solo-about-louis-armstrong/.)
Theater of the American South presents A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE at 2 p.m. May 19, 7:30 p.m. May 20, 8 p.m. May 24 and 26, and 2 p.m. May 27 at the Edna Boykin Cultural Center, 108 Nash St. NE, Wilson, North Carolina 27893.
TICKETS: $20 ($18 students and seniors 60+), and group rates are available.
BOX OFFICE: 252-291-4329, ext. 10, or http://www.etix.com/.
INFORMATION: 919-783-9671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ASSOCIATED EVENTS: http://www.theateroftheamericansouth.org/events.html.
The Play (background): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Streetcar_Named_Desire_(play) (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/Streetcar/streetcar.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
Tennessee Williams: http://www.olemiss.edu/mwp/dir/williams_tennessee/index.html (Mississippi Writers Page) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessee_Williams (Wikipedia).
Marc A. Fajer: http://www.law.miami.edu/facadmin/mfajer.php?letter=F (University of Miami School of Law).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.