Reviewed by Hen Zannini
Little Theatre of Fall River’s current production is A Streetcar Named Desire. Written in 1947 by American playwright Tennessee Williams, it received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948. The play opened on Broadway on December 3, 1947, and closed on December 17, 1949, in the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The Broadway production was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Jessica Tandy, Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter. Streetcar is often regarded as one of the finest plays of the 20th century and is considered by many to be Williams’ greatest. He was ahead of his time, discussing homosexual relationships, domestic violence, and rape.
Streetcar was also released on film in December 1951, featuring Vivien Leigh as Blanche, Kim Hunter as Stella, and Marlon Brando as Stanley. The movie won four Academy Awards, including three acting awards (Leigh for Best Actress, Malden for Best Supporting Actor, and Hunter for Best Supporting Actress).
In 1995, an opera was adapted and composed by André Previn with a libretto by Philip Littell. It had its premiere at the San Francisco Opera during the 1998–99 season and featured Renée Fleming as Blanche. The multi-Emmy Award-winning 1984 television version featured Ann-Margret as Blanche, Treat Williams as Stanley, Beverly D’Angelo as Stella, and Randy Quaid as Mitch. And the 1995 television version of Streetcar was based on the highly successful Broadway revival that starred Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange. This TV version added John Goodman as Mitch and Diane Lane as Stella.
A Streetcar Named Desire is the poignant story of Blanche DuBois, who moves in with her newly pregnant sister Stella and her brutish brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, in the steamy New Orleans French Quarter in the 1940s. She arrives at her sister’s apartment via a streetcar named Desire. Blanche has lost her family home, Belle Reve, to creditors, but she tells Stella she has taken a leave of absence from her English-teaching job because of her nerves (which is later revealed to be a lie). Blanche complains about the shabbiness of her sister’s flat and finds Stanley to be loud and rough. Stanley, in return, has no use for Blanche’s manner and dislikes her presence.
Amidst her snobbery and delusions of grandeur, Blanche’s mental health begins to crumble. The bullying, crude Stanley takes advantage of Blanche’s deteriorating condition and embarks on a plan to force his sister-in-law from his home. He probes and learns of her unrevealed past, thus shattering Blanche’s one chance at happiness with one of Stanley’s poker-playing friends, Mitch, who has fallen for Blanche’s calculated charms. This leads to an explosive, sexually charged confrontation between Blanche and Stanley.
Concurrently, Stanley’s wife Stella is so sexually addicted to him that she forgives even his most violent excesses, submitting to his every want and need. She constantly defends her wife-beating husband to Blanche, who is bewildered by this. Blanche’s psychotic crisis culminates in a complete breakdown, and she is admitted to a mental hospital. The poker games continue, and so does Stella’s loyalty to her violent husband.
Kathy Castro does an excellent job of directing this play that runs a gamut of emotions. She approaches this task with pure grit, which results in top-notch performances from her entire cast. Kudos to Kathy on a difficult job very well done.
Kathleen Povar plays Blanche Dubois, the fading southern belle of undetermined age, with complete aplomb. She graces the stage for nearly the entire play, and her character never wavers. Kathleen masks Blanche’s emotional distress and sexual trauma with a composed and believable outward decorum. Her gradual downward spiral into complete madness is pure magnificence. Her portrayal of hoity toitiness, coupled with alcoholism, is a spectacle to behold. I was mesmerized by Kathleen’s performance from beginning to end. Her performance is one not to be missed.
Stanley Kowalski, Blanche’s brother-in-law and Stella’s husband, is played by Chris Mac. Although Chris appears low key, we soon realize his subtleness is a cover, as he first turns menacing, then mean, and lastly, violent. His disdain for Blanche continues to grow throughout his performance, as do his brutal actions towards his wife. Chris captures these behaviors so powerfully, that we, too, “grow” with him, disliking him more and more. His slapping Stella in the face is effected with such degradation, it makes you sick to your stomach. This action leads to the famous scene where Stanley yells, “Stella!!!” At this moment Chris actually succeeds in almost making us feel sorry for him. Although Chris appears subtle, his performance is dynamic.
Rounding out this odd love triangle is Sarah Reed as Stella Kowalski. I had the pleasure of reviewing Sarah recently in “Butterflies Are Free,” and once again, she does not disappoint. Stella is initially thrilled to welcome her sister, whom she loves dearly, into her two-room apartment. However, she soon finds herself acting as a sort of mediator between Blanche and Stanley, whose relationship is volatile. Sarah impressively balances her relationships with her sister and her husband with unfeigned realism. We feel her anguish as she is torn between her love for them both. Her portrayal of a battered woman is magnificent.
Mitch, Blanche’s suitor, is played superbly by Jeremy Labrie. He is a bachelor who cares for his ill mother; and upon meeting Blanche and listening to her stories, he takes a liking to her. He is the nice guy. But when Mitch learns that Blanche’s tales are lies, he becomes bewildered, distressed, and then angry. Jeremy’s transition from winsome to riled is convincing and on point. When Blanche asks Mitch why he won’t marry her, he screams, “Because you are not clean enough to be in the house with my mother!” Jeremy appropriately and effectively stuns us with his delivery of this line.
Nishan Lawton and Erica Vitelli play husband and wife Steve and Eunice Hubbell. They provide comic relief throughout the play, sometimes hysterically, with their conversation and antics.
The remaining cast members provide wonderful support: Marsha Furtado, Tony Rocha, Megan McCaughey, W. Grant Willis, and Tyler Rebello. Stage Managers Paula Roy and Claudette Correiro keep things running smoothly, and a round of applause to all those working behind the scenes and providing a great set, costumes, props, music, sound, and lighting.
A Streetcar Named Desire runs through January 28 at The Firebarn, 340 Prospect Street, Fall River, Massachusetts. This classic play, full of raw emotion and pathos, is one not to be missed. Tickets are available by calling 508-675-1852 or by visiting Little Theatre of Fall River’s website: www.littletheatre.net