Streetcar Fulfills Desire at the New Theatre

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

remarkable timing.

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

the old movie, or who has any curiosity about Williams' Pulitzer

prize-winning play, should go to this show. It was an all-around

excellent experience.