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BWW Review: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE at South Bend Civic Theatre


This past weekend, the South Bend Civic Theatre closed their newest show, A Streetcar Named Desire. The play, written by Tennessee Williams and which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948, is widely considered one of Williams' best plays and one of the finest works of drama from the 20th century.

Taking place in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the story follows Blanche Dubois, who moves in with her younger sister after losing the family home in Mississippi. There, her past and present collide when tensions run high with her brother-in-law, Stanley. What plays out is the unveiling of Blanche's past tragedies and the events that lead to her ultimate downfall.

Under the direction of Aaron Nichols, the South Bend Civic Theatre has once again hit another powerful drama out of the park. Every artistic element of the production left nothing to be desired. From the set design, all the way to the costumes and lighting, A Streetcar Named Desire perfected drama. Designed by Jill Hillman, the set placed the story in a hazy, dark, and almost romantic room. It evoked feeling of nostalgia and dreaminess but also the uneasy feeling that something dark might take place here. Those feelings were augmented with lighting designed by Matt Davidson; pink and purple hues created the tone for many scenes. Alongside that, the costumes, designed by Donald Willman and Carol Shamory, were superb finishing touches to creating this specific world. Everything from elegant dresses for Blanche to run down work uniforms for the men, added to the reality that was their world.

Fantastic production elements aside, what really made this show so impactful were the actors. The cast consisted mainly of four central characters and their respective actors. All of them had inspiring performances, but there is no denying that the star of the show, Anastasia Spalding, who played Blanche Dubois, absolutely swept everyone away. Perfectly cast, Spalding flawlessly played the tiny but loud character who was both simultaneously strong-willed and teetering on the edge of hysteria. Spalding made the audience fall in love with her because of her ability to utterly convince us of every emotion she portrayed; when she flirted, we were charmed, when she was anxious, we were tense, and when she hurt, we did too. There is no denying her talent for acting as well as her technical prowess as an actress - not once did she drop Blanche's personal ticks and tendencies throughout the show and not once was she hard to hear, even in her tender and quieter moments. Even though she played a character that internally was a mess, all of Spalding's choices were crisp, clear, and true to all the different natures to her character. Spalding was quite frankly, remarkable to watch.

However, it would be a mistake not to also mention another actor who likewise put on an enthralling performance. Scott Jackson, who played Stanley Kowalski, made his character feel utterly real and not in the least fictional. Everything Jackson did felt natural and truthful to his character, from the way he sat in his chair to how he rolled his eyes at passing comments. Jackson had the most tangible performance of the night, because it didn't really feel like a performance at all, but the character Stanley coming to life on stage. When Jackson and Spalding performed together as Blanche and Stanley, sparks flew.

A Streetcar Named Desire combined beautiful production quality with talented actors to create a compelling drama that effortlessly tugged on the audience's emotions. From beginning to end, the play was enthralling, gripping, and awe-inspiring. It had all the elements of what great theatre should be and the hard work that went into creating it was obvious. The play was another successful drama for Aaron Nichols, which is nothing to be surprised by, and should only further encourage theatre lovers to see his work.

Photo Credit: Jon Gilchrist

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