BWW Reviews: Group Rep Presents a Gripping STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
A Streetcar Named Desire/by Tennessee Williams/directed by L. Flint Esquerra/group rep, NoHo/through September 7
Tennessee Williams' classic A Streetcar Named Desire is revered as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century with Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski, two of the most fascinating characters in theatrical history. Written in the 40s, the play does have many dated elements, but given a taut, well-honed production, its beautifully poetic passages still inspire...and its raw passions can ignite fireworks. Now onstage at the group rep in NoHo, Streetcar may be a daring choice for this company, but under L. Flint Esquerra's caring and detailed direction and with four actors perfectly cast in the lead roles, it is something to sing about.
Williams, a miserable alcoholic and homosexual, most likely voiced his own fragile feelings through his female characters, such as delusional Blanche (Diedra Celeste Miranda) who lives for each moment but consistently lies about her behavior to save face. After all, she started out a lady at her family's plantation Belle Reve, and it is practically unheard of for a lady to fall from grace. Williams led a lonely life, and as a homosexual man, never really found true happiness. When Blanche found it in her young lover, he turned out to be gay and killed himself. Alas, for Williams, none of these victimized creatures were meant to be eternally happy. Stanley included (Daniel Kaemon), who may very well have been a brutal force from Williams' past, the father who walked out on his mother, or one of his many one-night stands, one of many macho male prostitutes. Rude, crude and abusive, Stanley also lives for the moment but refuses to be the victim; he is the destroyer, who will survive at any cost.
For anyone unfamiliar with the plot, Blanche comes to visit her sister Stella (Anya Profumo) and Stanley in a tenement in the run-down French Quarter of New Orleans in 1947. She has lost Belle Reve, but lies about her position as a teacher, and about her struggles to stay alive. Stanley, mean spirited and interested only in his share of the money he and Stella can get out of the plantation, is out to bring Blanche down to his level and will stop at nothing in the process. He is a realist who wants truth-all or nothing; Blanche the idealist, who refuses to break loose from her world of paint and illusions. Stella, carrying Stanley's child, is caught in the middle, wanting to help her sister, but also desiring a future for herself, her husband and her baby. Life is dismal all around them where others like Eunice (LizAnne Keigley) and her hubbie (J Kent Inasy) upstairs supply enough temperament and sexual grunting to entertain the entire neighborhood. When one of Stanley's poker buddies quiet Mitch (Kent Butler) encounters Blanche he is briefly led into her world of deception and falls passionately in love with her. For her, he represents salvation; for him, who has a dying mother at home to care for, she's also a much needed blessing. Mitch envisions Blanche as a sweet, intelligent woman, as he wants to see her, which in the end destroys him to the very core.
Under Esquerra's cautious and giving hand, the cast are all terrific. Miranda makes Blanche ethereal, elusive, vulnerable and caring, yet with an uncanny sense of strength for survival that is truly mysterious and almost noble. She gives a truly mesmerizing performance! Kaemon is tall and forboding and makes Stanley completely his own, alternating appropriately between tyranny and self-pity. Profumo's role is a difficult one. Caught in the middle, Stella must show vulnerability and strength, and Profumo nails both. Butler was born to play Mitch, the nice, quiet man that everyone likes. Butler brings just the right amount of gentle understanding and genuine heartbreak to the fore. Keigley makes Eunice a memorable character with her gritty outbursts and heart.on.your.sleeve emotions. Praise as well to Laura Coker as the Mexican woman, to Cathy Diane Tomlin, Francisco Medina, Garrett Wagner, sweet and tender as the young collector, and to Linda Alznauer and Edgar Mastin as the doctor and nurse.
Chris Winfield's set design of the dilapidated tenement works well, as do Angela M. Eads' costumes, especially Blanche's faded dresses/gowns. Robert Murdock's dim lighting serves the play appropriately. Francisco Medina's live guitar offstage adds a nice touch, as does the director's concept of community atmosphere/ambiance with neighbors milling around the stage and audience at the beginning and in between scenes.
I must admit I had misgivings about seeing this production at group rep. Having studied the play and seeing stellar renderings especially on Broadway with Lois Nettleton and James Farentino many years ago, I wasn't sure how the company would handle it. Well, I'm glad I saw it, as once again I was happily reassured that with the right director in charge and with outstanding actors, a fine production may indeed be achieved. Group rep should be exceedingly proud of their work.
(photos: Drina Durazo, except poker game photo: Henry Holden))