Sunday, April 26, 2009

On-Stage: A Streetcar Named Desire

Is there any role that causes more trepidation than Stanley Kowalski? Nobody ever gets compared to Karl Malden in the Elia Kazan film, but every Kowalski is compared to Brando. Though frequently revived, Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize winning A Streetcar Named Desire remains an intimidating play to tackle, so director Adriana Baer and her cast deserve credit for pulling it off quite well in the their production at Columbia’s Schapiro Theatre.

Fresh off the famous streetcar, aging Southern Belle Blanche DuBois arrives unannounced at the small two room apartment of her sister Stella and brother-in-law, the infamous Stanley Kowalski. Though desperately trying to keep up appearances, something is clearly not right with her. Though the DuBois family plantation has been lost, Blanche maintains her aristocratic airs, which rankles Kowalski. Tensions between the three threaten to boil over as dark family secrets are revealed in that cramped apartment during a hot New Orleans summer.

Kowalski is a devilishly tricky role to step into, but Woertnedyke is certainly game. His Stanley is less menacing and more human, in-touch with the character’s blue collar roots. However, Linnea Wilson is a surprising standout as Stella Kowalski (formerly DuBois). Though Stella is frequently the overlooked member of the dysfunctional triangle, she has the third best line of the play: “there are things that happen, between a man and a woman, in the dark, that sorta make everything else seem unimportant.” Wilson really brings her to the fore, capturing the pain of her divided loyalties and insecurity.

Everyone attending Streetcar is waiting for two famous lines: Kowalski’s anguished cry of “Stella” and Blanche’s celebrated exiting line, which guarantees nobody ever leaves the play early. It really is cool to hear them live on-stage. Though Streetcar is a relatively long play, Baer’s direction keeps it moving at a surprisingly brisk pace. The classic New Orleans jazz piped in between the acts is also a nice touch, effectively evoking the locale. Altogether, it is quite an entertaining production that concludes its weekend run with a matinee performance this afternoon.