A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE Send This Review to a Friend
This new production of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” is an earthy one in which realism is emphasized rather than the more lyrical, poetic tones found in some previous interpretations. Directed by Emily Mann, it has much to recommend it, especially the performances by Nicole Ari Parker as Blanche and Blair Underwood as Stanley. Both of these leads being African-Americans, the play set in the New Orleans French Quarter takes on a new aura and works as well in such an environment as it can with a traditional cast. In fact, the largely African-American (but not totally) casting provides the basis for an ethnic effect that adds to the realism of the present staging.
Parker’s interpretation of Blanche is an intriguing one. She mixes the telltale signs of being a disturbed woman with amusing flirtatiousness and masking her unhappiness by putting on airs. And as the play moves along, she reveals the desperation she feels. Parker succeeds in being oddly likeable and gaining audience sympathy. Above all, she seems very, very real, not an outré character along the lines of some past interpretations. By the ending, she is momentarily more like a trapped animal fighting against her fate and we feel sorry for her as she is led away to be institutionalized. It all makes for very effective drama.
As for Underwood, he is a volatile, sexy Stanley. When he took off his shirt the night I saw the play, some shouts of delight was expressed by members of the audience. There are sparks the minute he meets Blanche, and his rough behavior with his wife, Stella, and later with Blanche, gives him boorishness that also adds to the realism. The Marlon Brando image is hard to compete with, but Underwood establishes the role on his own intriguing terms.
Daphne Rubin-Vega’s portrayal of Stella also is in tune with this more realistic staging.
She starts off sympathetic to Blanche, but as her sister becomes more and more difficult, she has to balance her affection for Blanche with her affection for Stanley, whose attitude toward Blanche grows more and more explosive. Rubin-Vega does a good job of making us understand her love for Stanley even when he mistreats her. Her performance is at times quite touching.
In this production a kind of chorus element has been added, with scenes of people passing along the street outside the home. This device tries to make the quarter alive, although at one point it is overdone to the point of silliness as the folks cross the stage with dance steps. Otherwise, the friends of Stanley, who gather to play cards, and the neighbors portrayed further contribute to giving the story veracity. The total effect is to transport us into this situation in which a weighty family drama is being played out against a background of life in this part of New Orleans.
It is quite natural to be wedded to the versions of the play that we have admired, whether on stage or screen, but this should not keep us from being open to a different interpretation with a new casting concept. At the Broadhurst Theater, 235 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200.