Thursday, June 6, 2013
Theater review: The spirit of NOLA flows through the characters of A Streetcar Named Desire
May the groove be with you.
GRAPEVINE STELLAAAAA! The cultural landmark that is A Streetcar Named Desire only needs a single word to call it to mind. And with a pedigree that includes Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Uta Hagan, Anthony Quinn, and Karl Malden, anyone who touches Streetcar has a mountain of work to live up to. Luckily, Nadine Richards and the volunteers at Runway Theatre are up to the task. Although it's overly wordy and long, the set, lights, sounds, and performances are all excellent.
Excellent use of minimal space is a good way to describe the set design at Runway Theatre. The Streetcar set utilizes impressions of walls so we can see the action in the street behind the Kowalskis' apartment. The great effect keeps the action on stage moving. The bustling alley brings the character of New Orleans into the theater and makes it easier to understand the intended source of offstage noises. The apartment is wonderfully decorated with an antique refrigerator and sink. In fact, all set dressing is perfectly picked. There are no apparent anachronistic props or furniture. These details make it much easier to slip into the world of the play.
Costumes are another area that would be easy to sneak anachronistic pieces in but Patsy Daussat chose the pieces wisely and each one is completely appropriate for the characters and time period. The costumes reflect their characters well with Blanche dressing elegant but conservatively, Stella in bright colors and light dresses and Stanley in everyday working man clothes. Not a piece is out of place.
Michael Winters' lighting design enhances every scene of Runway Theatre's production. Great use of color, yellows and reds, provides support for the idea of the sweltering summer heat of New Orleans. Indirect lighting of the background scenes allows the audience to see what happens there while keeping focus on the main characters in the foreground. Even the romantic “fantasy” lighting provided by Blanche's paper lantern is skillfully used. The overhead stage lighting used to support the practical light on the stage is not overbearing and plays perfectly naturally. In one scene, an entire area of the stage is lit only by a single candle in the center of a table and it works impeccably. Bravo, Mr. Winters. Bravo.
Another great technical aspect of A Streetcar Named Desire is the superb sound design. None of the sounds are obtrusive or interfere within the scenes they are heard, only adding to the enjoyment of them. The first time we hear Blanche's music in her head; I thought it was an effect representing a nearby bar. The ethereal distance of the sound is masterfully implemented. The thunderstorm is subtle and the soft jazz used between scenes is the best possible choice for setting the mood.
Jennifer Hamilton as Blanche Dubois expertly presents the verbose monologues of the delusional character. Her southern belle accent never breaks and no apparent cracks in her character for the whole two and a half hour performance. From her power clashes with Stanley to her carefully planned seduction of Mitch while clinging to a life that “ought to be true,” Hamilton demonstrates why she is worthy of the iconic role.
Blanche's little sister, Stella, is played sublimely by Tracie Foster. Her diminutive size belies the strength of her character. She is the beauty that can tame the beast in Stanley and is the final attachment to reality for Blanche. Her performance is splendid. She's soft yet firm, bodacious and decorous, the perfect antithesis of Blanche. Stella possesses the innate ability to understand a person's nature and Foster plays her empathy exquisitely.
Stanley Kowalski is an understandable, relatable brute; a simple man we've all known in our own lives. David Dixon's portrayal is truthful.
Where Blanche is caught in a melodramatic haze, Stanley is a portrait of a real person. We can understand his frustration with being derided by Blanche. Stanley's explosive temper flows out of Dixon naturally and to great effect, making the audience uncomfortable in his presence. Dixon is the perfect fit between Hamilton and Foster.
The sympathetic and naive Mitch is skillfully portrayed by David Johnson. From his first awkward meeting with Blanche to his final eruption, Johnson's characteristics for Mitch are spot on. In fact, all of the supporting cast, especially Laura Jones and John Grissom, are excellent in their parts, keeping the play alive and taking a lot of pressure off the leads.
A Streetcar Named Desire is a classic of American theater, and Runway Theatre's production is a wonderful presentation. All involved should be proud of their accomplishments. However, at three hours long including intermissions, even the most attentive find their minds wandering. It is important for theater aficionados to be familiar with the classics, and this presentation would be a great way to acquaint anyone with how American theater should be performed.
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