Last week, we gave a preview of the New Theatre's production of A Streetcar Named Desire, charging that "a theater troupe really has to have guts to take on" Tennessee Williams' most celebrated work. Well, in the premier of the show last night, the performers and director Ricky J. Martinez proved that their courage was more than naive ambition. They pulled it off, and they did a damned good job.
When Blanche DuBois, played by Angie Radosh, made her feathered and heavily-perfumed entrance from the back of the theater (throughout, the blocking included lots of use of the aisle, adding to the sensory experience), the fact that the actress is significantly older than the Blanche we know from Elia Kazan's famous 1951 film, and than the other actors, was a little off-putting (we're talking generational differences here).
But as the play went on, suspension of disbelief coupled with
intensely engaging performances rendered the gap a non-issue, and in
fact punched up some of the dark humor of the script.
For example, when
Blanche insists that she calls Stella her "precious little sister ...
in spite of the fact that she's actually somewhat older," adding thinly,
"less than a year," the crowd really cracked up. Basically any
references to Blanche's age became a lot funnier.
the beginning, Radosh conveyed a damaged, fragile, wincing and
delusional lush, brimming with energy that became steadily more
schizophrenic as the story, and her wet brain, developed. By the end,
she looked like a rumpled, gin-soaked powder puff with spider-leg
mascara, her plausibly crazy eyes flitting after her elaborate and
feverish imaginations. You could tell that she'd pored over Vivienne
Leigh's performance quite a few times in developing her character, and
it turned out to be a good thing.
Girardin played Stella, cutting a silhouette much wispier (emaciated?)
than Kim Hunter did in Kazan's film. Again, this variation in casting
upped the otherwise more subtle humor of the script; when Blanche
remarked, upon laying eyes on her little sis', "but you-you've put on
some weight! Yes, you're just as plump as a little partridge!" the
audience got a hearty chuckle out of it.
Svelteness aside, Girardin
exhibited admirable range, portraying Stella's no-nonsense strength,
lose-herself lust, and nurse-like compassion with equal success, though
she did seem to struggle to stick in the N'Orleans accent at the outset
of the show.
It's hard not to compare Travis
Reiff's portrayal of brawny, callous "Pollack" Stanley Kowalski to Marlon Brando's in the film version, so we're just going to indulge. No
one can ever come close to duplicating the sexy sweat-dripping man-child
that Brando brought to life.
Reiff took many cues from the epic
performance --- for example, shouting at shocking, ear-splitting volume,
lines like "Hooey!" and of course, "Stellllllaaaaa!!!" --- but he
didn't just try to mimic a great actor play-by-play. His delivery was a
little softer, a little less snide, a little less feral than what we had
expected. It was different, but it was solid.
Stanley's friend and Blanche's easy-mark love interest, was acted by
Clint Hooper. The very tall actor played the role with the necessary
reserve while remaining interesting, mainly as a result of his
His pauses, just long enough to build nervous tension
(even if you've seen the movie so many times that you know what his
character is about to say next), helped us to forget that he was swiping
at a love interest that could easily have been his mother.
We can't go without mentioning supporting actors Kitt Marsch and Steven A.
Chambers who played squabbling neighbors and friends Eunice and Steve.
Marsch channeled a bawdy, fiery broad that was somewhere between I Love Lucy and Anna Nicole Smith. Their exchanges injected an added element of comic relief to the show.
The New Theatre's intimate (read tiny) size lent itself beautifully to the setting of Streetcar:
a cramped, squalid, muggy two-room apartment in the French Quarter of
New Orleans. The proximity made us feel as though we, too, were sharing
space in their depraved little world.
The simple stage was evocative of
the set used in Kazan's film. Antique whiskey and beer bottles,
thinly whitewashed wallboards, gauzy, mosquito-net-type curtains and a
grody Murphy bed were all the backdrop we needed for three hours of
entertainment. No, there was no set change, and we didn't need one ---
time flew by in this this twisted little pocket of not-so-easy life in
the The Big Easy.
Anyone who enjoyed
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the old movie, or who has any curiosity about Williams' Pulitzer
prize-winning play, should go to this show. It was an all-around