New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"A Streetcar Named Desire"
Broadhurst Theatre, Broadway

It’s a hot, steamy world at the Broadhurst. The New Orleans of Tennessee Williams has been reincarnated—and then some! This terrific Broadway revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire” really packs a wallop. Director Emily Mann has managed to bring high drama to every scene, even those scenes traditionally underplayed.

That Mann has chosen a multi-racial cast brings an added interest. These black, Latino, and white actors wear their roles like old, comfortable suits of clothes, and every cast member adds richness to the product.

For any one who doesn’t know this classic, the plot, briefly, involves Stanley and Stella Kowalski, who live in a rundown New Orleans neighborhood. In the small flat, there is little privacy, as they await their baby’s birth. Stella’s sister Blanche, clearly at the end of her tether, arrives on the scene. (She has lost her teaching job because of scandal, her family estate has dwindled to nothing, her one-time beauty has faded, and she seeks a haven.) She sets her eye on Mitch, Stanley’s friend, hoping to trap him into marriage. Stanley, the realist, immediately resents Stella with her high airs, and their blow-up is inevitable.

Topping the dramatis personae is Blair Underwood as Stanley and Nicole Ari Parker as Blanche. Stanley, with every gesture, recreates the “animal” that Blanche dubs him. He is truly a creature of the moment, subject to strong emotions immediately translated into the physical. He is capable of smashing furniture, hurling dishes, punching his wife. He does it quickly, incisively, beautifully. Here Underwood plays against type. (In real life Underwood is all class.) Perhaps to compensate for that, Underwood goes over the top. But every one is larger than life in this grown-up fairy tale. As for Blanche, Parker is nothing short of marvelous. It is a rich role, and she milks it, creating a vulnerable, fragile creature who fights for survival. (A minor quibble: her southern accent is so believable that it is sometimes hard for us northerners to decipher her lines, sometimes delivered a bit up tempo.)

Daphne Rubin-Vega creates a fully-fleshed Stella, more colorful and believable than Stellas of the past. And Wood Harris, too, comes into his own, as Mitch, Blanche’s unfortunate suitor.

But everything works beautifully in this production—from Eugene Lee’s gritty set, to Edward Pierce’s moody lighting, to Paul Tazewell’s ingenious costumes, to Mark Bennett’s appropriate sound design. And background music composed by Terence Blanchard is on target. Above all, director Mann turns her cast into a fine ensemble—whether they are playing poker, parading the streets, or battling mates--as the New Orleans neighborhood comes to life.

But if we stop for a reality check, we stumble. Or rather the play-writing stumbles. Why is Stella slim and trim in the opening scene, though she is pregnant. Are we to assume that nine months pass in the course of the play? Why is Blanche hauled off to the booby-trap? Granted she is a liar, an alcoholic, a seducer of boys, but is she nutty? She may not know right from wrong, but she can get through the day. We have to assume that she loses all sanity only after she is raped by Stanley, but that is never spelled out. We go directly from the rape scene to the appearance of authorities who will take her away.

But let’s suspend disbelief and appreciate this “Streetcar” for the wonder that it is. A not-to-be-missed experience.

--Irene Backalenick
Apr. 22, 2012

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