Rock and Roll in New Orleans!
“A Streetcar Named Desire” was written in 1947 by Tennessee Williams and in my estimation no work since has eclipsed its range of emotions. I was a teenager when I was first stunned by the movie in 1951 in a Tucson, Arizona drive-in, and commandeered anyone I could to take me back. I saw it four times during the month it played. I have seen many theater productions of it over the years. The recent Woody Allen brilliant homage to it in his film “Blue Jasmine” was great fun and ultimately very tragic.
While the Yale Rep's present version directed by Mark Rucker is not perfect, it is immensely interesting. Because Sarah Sokolovic gives such a wonderfully nuanced, passionate performance as Stella, here, (The best since Kim Hunter), and Rene Augesen paints such a lightweight portrait of Blanche, albeit a massive role, the balance of the play is changed. Empathy for Stella outweighs sympathy for Blanche.
Who are these women? They are sisters, who have been brought up on a Louisiana plantation/estate called Belle Rive. Stella moved to New Orleans, married and adores rough-around-the-edges Stanley Kowalski, a Polish American. Joe Manganiello is tall, dark and handsome; he shows flashes of anger, but he does not have the dimension for this role. He is too polished to play this dangerous guy, with a haircut that is far too preppy and clothes that are far too neat for someone who lives in the poor section of town.
Blanche, an English teacher, stayed at Belle Rive to take care of their dying parents. When the play opens, she has just arrived to stay with Stella and Stanley in their scruffy one bedroom apartment designed by Reid Thompson, lit murkily by Stephen Strawbridge. Almost immediately, she informs Stella that she has lost their family home, yet does not admit that she has been kicked out of town for seducing a young male student. Her desperation ebbs and flows as she tries to figure out where she belongs.
Stella is shocked by this news, but defends her overly sensitive sister, as Stanley invokes the Napoleonic Code, which gives equal profits to husband and wife. This veteran of World War II-senses the falsity of Blanche's stories and researches her life. She hates his crude outbursts and the way he treats Stella, whom she discovers is pregnant. Their enmity for each other is palpable.
Meanwhile, unmarried Mitch, the sincere but miscast Adam O'Bryne, one of Joe's war and poker playing buddies, takes a liking to Blanche; he is outraged when he finds out her innocent ways are an act. A fierce battle ensues when Stanley and Blanche are left alone, the night Stella is giving birth. Is there any finer line than the one spoken by Blanche at the end of this steaming work? As she is taken off to an institution, she looks up at the male doctor and says, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” It always brings a tear to my eye.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” is surely a sensual story. However, the use of nudity is really out of place here and not indicated in the original script. The elongated shape of the set is also a problem. We could not see the head of the bed or the bathroom. Hunter Kaczorowski's Costumes are fine, but it is Steven Brush's Music Composition that shines.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” will play through October 12 at the Yale Rep.