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Dreams and Desires

Theater Review

Apr. 15, 2008
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Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire depicts the wanton dismantling of an elaborately woven ideal and the erection of a hard-boiled, pressing reality in its place. Blanche DuBois, a faded and delusional Southern belle, represents a dying gentility. Her voracious brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, represents the archetypal male—the obnoxious leader of a beer-swilling pack, the prize cock who woos, marries and impregnates Blanche’s sister, Stella. He secures his future through the fruit of his loins while ensuring that Blanche remains eternally incarcerated within her tragic illusions.

Sunset Playhouse’s production of the play captures the frantic pitch of Blanche and Stanley’s battle, but not always its substance. In a play whose rich metaphors and allegories never eclipse the fully formed characters, this is particularly noticeable. Mary DeBattista portrays Blanche as a neurotic caged bird subjected to both Stanley’s ill-natured prodding and Stella’s loving tolerance. Her despondency is shrouded in a mist of melodrama, rarely allowing a glimpse at her manipulative tendencies or the listless appetites that have lead her to prostitution in the past.


Andy North’s Stanley is more wily than slipshod. North can be commended for not rendering the character solely as a grunting sexual brute, and lends Stanley a particle of grace that Williams may have intended. He rises to the part especially well when fondling his wife (a solid performance by Angela Beyer), cornering Blanche or smashing crockery. Perhaps as North grows into his part, the rest of his performance will capture that pent-up energy.

J. Michael Desper’s beautifully detailed set affords many opportunities. Washed in warm gray tones, it has the kind of raffish charm that Williams prescribed, rescued from dinginess by a modest allure—much like Stella herself. The set is divided into three visible parts: a lighted porch, a living room and a cramped bedroom. The permeability of these areas allows disparate scenes to take place simultaneously, reinforcing the urgent, cramped nature of Blanche’s mental state and the reinforces the awkward familiarity that their proximity engenders between the characters. Two windows reveal an azure blue sky that heightens the melancholic beauty of the room, but also offers a panorama of the unseemly aspects of the neighborhood; drunken sailors and prostitutes loitering in the shadows, and street vendors roaming about like lost souls. These visual incursions also become audible, sometimes to gaudy effect, such as the polka music that strikes up every time Blanche lapses into reverie. Director Mark Salentine was clearly keen to remain true to Williams’ original stage directions, but surely a more fitting convention can be found to take its place.

Set changes, often appearing to be deliberately noisy, could also do with more subtlety. However, adaptations of this play are generally worth seeing, and this is no exception. I imagine that the wrinkles will be ironed out in due course, allowing what’s an already adept production to become rather poignant.

Runs through May 3.


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