Theatre Review: “A Streetcar Named Desire”
Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” may well be my favorite play. So I will say that I had some high expectations when it came to Firehouse Theatre Project’s production, directed by Tawnya Pettiford-Wates.
The character of Blanche Dubois is so expertly written and when the right actress is cast in the role, she is beyond captivating. And that is indeed true with the casting of Bianca Bryan as Blanche for Firehouse.
Man-crazy Southern belle Blanche Dubois is in New Orleans to visit her sister Stella and she is staying with her and her husband, Stanley Kowalski, while she’s in town. Upon her arrival at the Kowalski home on a streetcar named “Desire,” Blanche tells her sister that they have lost the family home, “Belle Reve,” which devastates Stella.
Upon learning this, Stanley tells Stella that under the “Napoleonic Code,” what belongs to the wife also belongs to the husband, and confronts Blanche asking to see paperwork from “Belle Reve.” Thus begins a contentious relationship between Blanche and Stanley as he believes that Blanche is judgmental, idealistic and is trying to force a wedge between him and Stella. It is clear that Blanche does not approve of Stanley or the couple’s living situation and Stanley progressively starts to fear that his world is being changed without his consent.
Stella reveals that she is pregnant, which causes Blanche to be very concerned about her sister’s wellbeing, especially after a very intense confrontation between Stella and Stanley, where Stanley becomes physically violent. Stella and Blanche retreat to a neighbor’s house, but, to the dismay of Blanche, Stella is back in Stanley’s arms in no time.
Determined Blanche is the reason for his marital trouble, Stanley looks into her past in order to dig up any embarrassing information that may discredit her and ruin her budding relationship with her prospective new beau, Mitch. Unfortunately Stanley succeeds in more ways than one in destroying Blanche, as in Act II she eventually descends into madness.
Joe Carlson gives an amazing performance as brutish Stanley Kowalski, who is, upon meeting her, immediately threatened by Blanche and her seemingly superior and flighty personality. Bianca Bryan plays Blanche and in my opinion IS Blanche.
Kudos to dialect coach Janet Rodgers in coaching Bryan and the cast with their accents. Blanche is a very complicated character and I have always tended to think of her of as a real person rather than a character. And I feel Bryan embodies what I would envision Blanche to be. Lauren Marie Hafner gives a strong performance as Stella, whose character I’ve always viewed as a bit of a doormat.
But I digress; Hafner does what she can with the role and is charming all along the way. Charley Raintree plays Blanche’s New Orleans’ suitor, Mitch, and is very genuine and sincere in his role.
There were some odd moments in the direction of the Firehouse production of which I was not particularly fond. Between scenes, and at times during scenes, the actors are instructed to move in slow motion. Watching slow motion live is a bit weird and I felt it took me out of the experience a bit. Mainly because you’re very aware that it’s an on-purpose effect carried out by the actor and not something that was created through camera editing, a la “The Matrix” and the like.
An enjoyable highlight in this production is definitely the beautiful live jazz music with supporting actress Margarette Joyner providing incredible vocals.
I found the costumes to be a bit uneven in their aesthetics and quality. They are either gorgeous and appropriate or a bit dowdy and unflattering, not very much room in-between unfortunately.
The impressive and massive set by Edwin Slipek is one of the largest ever at the Firehouse, utilizing so much of the stage that you feel like you could be sitting on a stoop across the street in New Orleans, with an intimate view inside the Kowalski home. There is a screen along the back side of the stage which serves as a large window with outside images from late 1940s New Orleans projected throughout which is a very creative and dynamic addition.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” is playing at Firehouse Theatre Project through May 17th.
Check out www.firehousetheatre.org for information and tickets.
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
“Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created.”November 9, 2015
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