New York City Theater
"A Streetcar Named Desire"
Roundabout Theatre Company—Studio 54
Probably, every single day, a revival of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” is being mounted somewhere on this planet. And that’s fine, because one can never get too much of Williams’ haunting lyrical drama—at least in this reviewer’s opinion.
And now Roundabout Theatre brings the Williams classic to Broadway, starring Natasha Richardson and John C. Reilly. As happens with an oft-staged classic, the director is challenged to put his distinctive stamp on the piece. This time director Edward Hall opens the play up and turns it into something of a grand opera. For starters, Robert Brill’s fin de siecle set, with its tangle of wrought iron steps, adds to the grand illusion. The whole set, and in fact the theater itself, reeks of atmosphere, of an earlier time and former grandeur. Since Williams’ heroine Blanche DuBois is a woman who has fallen on hard times, it is not inappropriate.
But director Hall goes even further, interspersing the story with crowded street scenes (even a street singer). Is this “Streetcar”—or “Porgy and Bess”? While this approach has its enchantments, it is also a distraction, diluting the intensity of the drama and moving away from realism toward a stylized opera.
Yet the hero, this Stanley Kowalski, could not be more real, more dynamic. From the moment John Reilly appears on stage, his hat askew, and flings himself across the room and into his wife’s bed, the play comes to life. Remarkably, Reilly has made the role his own, neither haunted nor daunted by Marlon Brando’s ghost. Natasha Richardson, on the other hand, is more self-conscious as Blanche, even though her throaty voice gives full measure to the southern inflections. Richardson does not seem sufficiently battered by life. For starters, she is too young, too attractive. Surely stage make-up could have been applied liberally for a more haggard look. But, more importantly, though she manages a nervous edginess at times, her performance lacks the exhaustion and vulnerability basic to this character.
Yet the story itself, thanks to Tennessee Williams’ genius, packs a powerful punch, whatever the strengths and weaknesses of this particular production.
-- Irene Backalenick
Apr. 22, 2005