There's little argument that Tennessee Williams's 1947 drama A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the 20th century's greatest plays, arguably, THE greatest. And it's likely that most theatergoers have seen either a live or filmed production and have pretty strong opinions on how it should look and sound.
Knowing this, Stage West Community Playhouse is to be commended for bringing this stage classic to local audiences. And director Dalton Benson and his cast and crew deserve praise for tackling this challenging, near three-hour show with its iconic characters — and doing a surprisingly fine job of it, too.
Indeed, the joy of live theater is seeing new actors and directors put their spin on something so familiar and bringing out new or different facets of a character or situation that make the audience see something in a new light.
Such it is with the Stage West presentation of Streetcar. The story, characters and script are all there, but the look and feel seem fresh and new. Set in a cramped, seedy 1947 New Orleans apartment house, Streetcar is the story of the fading Mississippi belle Blanche DuBois (Angela Sarabia), who goes to live with her younger sister Stella (Susan Nichols) and Stella's coarse, loud husband Stanley Kowalski (Jay Ingle) after the DuBois family plantation where she had lived is lost to creditors.
Stanley taunts Blanche from the outset, and Blanche responds the only way she knows how, with sexually aggressive flirtation that only irritates Stella's insensitive, boorish, physically abusive husband. Stanley is determined to discredit Blanche and send her on her way as soon as possible, never mind that the woman has no place to go. And Stella, despite the bruises Stanley has inflicted on her, stands by her man.
The core of the drama is Blanche, and Ms. Sarabia's Blanche is her own — no simpering faux debutante, but a fidgety, flighty, chatty, aging woman, pulling at her long, curly hair as she fondles every man in sight, young, old and in between, hoping for love and help that never seem to come, but calm and often radiant as she poignantly recalls the tragedies and fantasies of her life.
Blanche has survived a disastrous marriage at age 16, the horrible death of her puzzling boy/husband; then, all alone, nursing a succession of old, dying relatives begging her to save them from the grave; trying to salvage the remains of a once-prosperous Mississippi plantation that has been ravaged by a succession of her male ancestors who piddled it off to support their lusts; and, of course, fighting her own special mental demons, signaled by sound designer Lynda Benson's tinkling music that was playing the night her husband died.
This role, and the Mississippi accent that goes with it, is a huge challenge for full-time professional actors with months to prepare, and Ms. Sarabia and director Benson are to be congratulated for the Blanche they have fashioned. The dense, complex script itself is challenge enough, but adding the mannerisms, facial expressions, postures and moves makes it even more so, and Ms. Sarabia does admirable work on all counts.
This is enhanced by Jay Ingle, who creates a convincing Stanley with his casual use of physical and vocal violence, seeming remorse, transparent greed, and uncaring ways. Like Ms. Sarabia, the lanky Ingle makes this Stanley his own, even during the often caricatured "Stella" scenes.
Ms. Nichols' Stella is also a pleasure to watch, making clear that the reason she left Blanche to fend for herself was not only after a lifetime of being Blanche's unpaid maid, but also because, like so many in that family, she is driven by her own lusts and desires. Ms. Nichols makes the most of languid moves when she's in charge, submissive ways when Stanley is there, and quick temper when enough is enough.
Sam McCall sends the right signals as Blanche's tentative suitor Mitch, gentle and understanding at first, but as judgmental as the rest when he discovers her "past." Rose DeAngelo's upstairs neighbor Eunice Hubbell creates a believable abused, but submissive wife to her philandering hubby, Steve, ably done by Scott Yoder. The Hubbells underscore the Kowalskis' marital and emotional arrangement. And supporting cast members Sheryl Depp as nurse; Patty Villegas as a street vendor; Louis Bermudez as Stanley's card-playing pal Pablo; Chris Hubner as the understanding doctor; and Brian Moran as the young, innocent newspaper boy flesh out the New Orleans scene and add punch to the creation of the other characters.
The whole production is enhanced by set designer Lynda Benson's detailed, authentic two-story New Orleans apartment house, with great use of scrim screens, crumbling walls and shutters, crowded furniture that makes the rooms seem stifling, and prop placement that brings every scene totally in view. Kudos, too, to set builder Sig Stock and his sizable crew, and to Bev O'Looney for costumes that amplify and intensify the actions of the characters.