Under Mann’s direction, noisy offstage trolleys clang and rumble by on an erratic schedule (Mark Bennett’s sound), the air seems always very still, and the temperature duly enflames raw nerves. But life also goes on apace. Forget the dreary stagings of “Streetcar,” with intense interpretations at every turn. This one has both life and heart, not just mind; it’s as funny as it is violent and loud...Emily Mann knew Tennessee Williams, and at the end of his life the playwright and director had a real bond. She was not depending on the company of strangers when she took on “Streetcar,” and her insights in this version make that clear.
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE Broadway Reviews
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At the end of the play, a broken Blanche, the woman who represents the Old South, utters one of the most self-evident lines in Williams’ repertoire: “I’m anxious to get out of here — this place is a trap.” She’s right but the production definitely isn’t — it’s a joy that reminds us again how good Williams was.
This is not a reinvention of the 1947 play, as the casting conceit might suggest. Nor is it a revelation in terms of startling new takes on familiar characters. It tends to under-serve the pathos while more assiduously exploring the humor and sensuality. But while it’s uneven, this is a muscular staging driven by four compelling, sexy lead performances and a sturdy ensemble.
There are two main aesthetic reasons I can think of to justify Mann’s reinterpretation of “A Streetcar Named Desire” through multi-racial casting – – to have the audience look at a classic work in a fresh light, thereby adding to our understanding of it; and to give us the chance to see great actors in roles normally closed to them. The director clearly achieves the first aim. She is only partially successful in the second.
In all of its shades, Emily Mann's production mines the rich humor in the play (yes, Williams wanted you to laugh a lot) while also going for a grounded, conversational approach that avoids hokey mannerisms...Mann takes [the cast] (and Daphne Rubin-Vega as the conflicted Stella and Wood Harris as the disillusioned Mitch) through a Streetcar whose straightforward approach deprives us of a central battle royale but whose admirable affection for the text still merits the kindness of strangers.
But Stanley also needs to have a feral charm and a touch of insecure neediness — otherwise, it’s hard to see why he’d feel threatened by Blanche, or why Stella would stay with this wife-beater in wife-beaters. Unfortunately, Underwood sticks to one note, and that’s brutish. Even then, it often feels as if we’re watching a fundamentally nice actor baring his teeth — and his chest — to look mean. Stanley’s rage at the world doesn’t come from deep inside.
“The Poker Night” was once the working title for what would become Tennessee Williams’s most celebrated work. So perhaps it’s appropriate that a poker game provides one of the few moments approaching excitement in the torpid revival of the play that was renamed “A Streetcar Named Desire.” ...when the woman in the seat beside me started to nod off during the first act of this “Streetcar,” I didn’t have the heart to nudge her. Handsomely designed by a top-flight team — including Eugene Lee (set), Paul Tazewell (costumes) and Edward Pierce (lighting) — this “Streetcar” is mostly an exquisite snooze.
Nicole Ari Parker, Blair Underwood and Daphne Rubin-Vega, the stars of Emily Mann's striking production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," offer no subtle psychological insights into Blanche, Stanley and Stella. But the physical beauty and sexual magnetism they bring to these iconic characters would surely delight Tennessee Williams -- along with auds who might appreciate some kicks with their culture. The only downside to the production coup of looking good (witness the handsome set, gorgeous lighting, nice costumes, and great sounds) is that much of this bold beauty is only skin deep.
But you want to know about Underwood, and why not? It’s not as though Brando himself didn’t distinguish Stanley as an icon of brute sexual charisma, and on that score Underwood certainly delivers the goods. Just listen to the gasps and sighs emanating from the audience when he strips to an undershirt or less.
There's little poignancy in the performance. When Blanche goes crackers at the end, it seems to come out of nowhere, rather than being the inevitable result of a long slide. [...] Blair Underwood, another performer from films and TV who is normally a sensitive actor, overdoes Stanley's macho-ness to the point of excluding any other qualities.
Sometimes there's yuks so quickly. The latest production of Tennessee Williams' masterwork "A Streetcar Named Desire" is an unfathomable misstep from the gifted Emily Mann, whose work I have often admired as both director and playwright. Helmer Mann and her starry cast treat the work as if it were a combination soap opera and sitcom. The result is embarrassing and sad.