BWW Review: STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE at Jeff Goldberg Studio
You step into the cozy Bandra studio and you are immediately aware, if you care, of how tiny and protected theatre seems when restricted to the privileged. It becomes exceedingly interesting for us to then observe how Jeff Goldberg decides to understand a play as layered in class and plot as the eternal "Streetcar Named Desire". To the enthusiast, the play comes with several burdens of an adaptation in the Indian context, making its existence more necessary than difficult.
To place the play in a Chembur household seems an obvious choice; the presence of South Indian migrants who have seen a better life yet done nothing to preserve it is a setup loyal to Williams. This adaptation offers very little divergence from the plot when seen from the perspective of the three characters, the plot is so keenly placed that even the naming of the characters doesn't seem to need a change in an adaptation that literally cuts across continents and centuries of cultural differences.
Perhaps it is this comfort and convenience that causes discomfort to the looking audience. The story is always going to be enticing enough to maintain a steady connect but to those who have previously indulged in the play, the reworking is not necessarily easy to accept. As for the actors, Blanche played by Saloni Khanna brings out the hysteria as required in certain moments but lacks the intricacies that William's Blanche deserved. This adaptation though largely funnier sticks to the plot but fails to understand the deeper issues Williams' had the ability to demonstrate in his plays without much effort. As opposed to Williams' elitist, disillusioned Blanche there is only understudied judgemental dialogue for Blanche in Goldberg's edition.
Stella as the wife who understood and yet lived Stanley's torture is all the more passive in this adaptation. The acting and dialogue for her are reactionary, overshadowed by a larger male presence in this one. Williams' friendly sisterhood with the black neighbor is translated into a male ghetto, giving louder laughs yet sometimes missing the entire point of the outsider in the Fernandez household. Their role is to bring out the tension in Stella and Stanley's marriage yet the now stereotypical Mitch becomes singular, a mere romantic sub-plot.
The stage setting is apt for the reach of the production, the bedroom and living room binary that is so infamous Tennessee Williams' is maintained but the couch replaces the bed, an example how so much of Williams' symbolism is either ignored or consciously done away with it. As said earlier, that one thing that makes one dismiss the play across its duration is the symbolism, music, costume and other important stage apparatus that are absolutely done away with in this adaptation, all for convenience, essentially setting a tone that will not resemble Williams but also not having the potential to create a character of its own.
Regardless, actors Kashyap Shanghari, Saloni Khanna and Urvazi Kotwal embody the look and feel of Stella, Blanche and Stanley- not losing the sensuality and physicality of the play's drama.
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