|Williams Classic On South Bend Stage|
|Tuesday, 04 April 2017 17:22|
Even from someone with little or no knowledge of theater, the name of Tennessee Williams will evoke a response.
The soft-spoken Southerner who, with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, forms the triumvirate of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century, created characters that continue to challenge a wide range of actors from amateurs to veterans..
Accepting that challenge with a 70th anniversary production of Williams’ 1947 Pulitzer Prize drama, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” South Bend Civic Theatre opened the second show of its 2017-18 season Friday evening in its mainstage Wilson Theatre.
Under the direction of Aaron Nichols, the 11-member cast was undaunted by the task of recreating several of the American theater’s best known dramatis personae. To those who believe the comedians’ mantra that “tragedy is easy,” just try a touch of Tennessee.
Especially when the many of the characters have become more than closely identified with their creators. This identification is never more closely linked than with “Streetcar’s” male protagonist, Stanley Kowalski, and his originator on stage and screen, Marlon Brando.
The task of not only becoming Stanley but erasing, as much as possible, the image of Brando, is undoubtedly one of the most daunting in theater.
It is one that Scott Jackson takes on with admirable abandon even though his earthy physicality is rather restrained and, considering the humidity of the New Orleans setting, lacking in sweat. His obvious frustration with the unannounced — and seemingly unending — visit from his pretentiously genteel sister-in-law Blanche DuBois (Anastasia Spalding) begins with his realization that the family plantation has been “let go” rather than sold and, finally stretched to the breaking point, culminates in an explosive confrontation as he drunkenly hurls the secrets of Blanche’s past in the face of her ever-weakening grasp on reality.
Spalding’s Blanche struggles with harsh realism of life in the French Quarter and the comforting illusions of her youth. Appalled by her younger sister Stella’s acceptance of the raw facts of her life with a husband Blanche describes as “bestial,” she weaves rose-colored fantasies of what life could be, increasingly haunted by the suicide of her young husband.
Stella (Alexandra Rowell) is caught between the animalistic pull of her husband’s carnality and the emotional lure of her sister’s romantic dreams. Trying desperately to find a common ground, she finally must make a definitive choice. (Note: Not the same in the stage and film versions.) Unfortunately, Rowell spoke so softly on opening night that the majority of her dialogue was unheard.
As Mitch, one of Stanley’s poker-playing buddies, Don Elliott goes from willingly playing gallant knight to Blanche’s lady to cruelly exposing her fantasies in the raw light of a single bulb. Their scenes together are sensitively played and initially end with hope, however ill-fated.
The width of the Wilson stage is well used in Jill Hillman’s multi-level set design, with an iron spiral stairway at the left leading from the ground level Kowalski apartment to that of their friends Eunice (Dawn Marie Hagerty) and Steve (Curt Goodrich) Hubbell and, on the opposite side, the 4 Deuces Bar, complete with instrumental quartet. Most of the action takes place in the two-room apartment center stage which manages to feel cramped in spite of the surrounding space.
The use of music — original combined with popular hit songs of the period — is a plus to this production, with arranger Roy Bronkema as pianist and Jibrail Jones, Luke Vasilarakos and Anival Fausto completing the group. Fausto doubled as a poker player.
The costumes could be a good deal more worn in keeping with the just-above poverty level of the setting.
As in all plays, suspension of disbelief in varying degrees is important.
“A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE” plays through April 9 in the Wilson Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N. Main St. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 April 2017 18:11|