|Cassi Maggio, Nick A. Olivero and Juliet Tanner in A Streetcar Named Desire. Cassi Maggio, Nick A. Olivero and Juliet Tanner in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Intricacies of the Human Spirit
For the remainder of August (and extended to September 5!), Boxcar Theatre presents Tenn Will, three award-winning Tennessee Williams plays in repertory. Williams won Pulitzer Prizes for A Streetcar Named Desire (1948) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) and the Drama Criticsâ€™ Circle Award for Glass Menagerie (1945). While more than half a century has passed since Stanley Kowalski first howled â€śStellaaaaaaaaâ€ť at the bottom of a winding staircase in A Streetcar Named Desire, there is no doubt the power of Williamsâ€™ spirit is alive and well in this young companyâ€™s bare-bones staging.
The Boxcarâ€™s small size works to its advantage in adding to the claustrophobia that near-penniless, Southern Belle Blanche DuBois (Juliet Tanner) experiences when she arrives at the crowded two-room French Quarter apartment of her sister Stella (Casi Maggio). Add to that the live grassroots music and soundscape perfectly created by the members of this seamless ensemble and the sultry atmosphere of post-WWII New Orleans. Director Rebecca Longworth has definitely done her homework, keeping the play moving apace without losing its emotionally evocative echoes.
The strength of this production lies in its well-defined relationships. Having burned every bridge by the time she arrives on her sisterâ€™s doorstep, chatterbox Blanche, still haunted by her past, has a hard time keeping herself together. Resuming their childhood roles, Stella immediately starts to take care of her â€śolderâ€ť sister. When Stella learns the old homestead Belle Reve has been lost to creditors, she dismisses it as less important. Husband Stanley (Nick A. Olivero) does not. Quoting Louisianaâ€™s â€śNapoleonic Codeâ€ť (what belongs to his wife is also his), Stanley confronts Blanche whose usual Southern charm fails to quell his concerns. Stanleyâ€™s less brutish co-worker Mitch (Brian Jansen) becomes enamored with Blanche, and she sees him as a welcome ticket out of her dire circumstances. But Stanley does his research about Blanche and discovers her less than spotless past which she does not deny.
The cast of the show is well chosen with some interesting emphases. While Oliveroâ€™s beer-bellied Stanley is more â€ścommonâ€ť than sultry, the passion and affection he and Stella have for each other is clearly delineated. If Tanner might appear young to play Blanche, whose romantic prospects have all gone â€śdown the spout,â€ť one should remember that in the late 1940â€™s (in the South in particular), women often married in their late teens, and anything over twenty was considered â€śold maidâ€ť territory. Tannerâ€™s complex Blanche completely fulfills the demands of the role: the desperate longing for safety, the studied Southern charm coupled with both a swift-tongued, witty intelligence and a hidden sensuality revealed so exquisitely in the scene with the â€śyoung, young, young manâ€ť (Seth Thygesen) who comes to collect for the newspaper. Maggio fits into the role of Stella just as easily as a hand in a favorite glove, and the rhythm of the scenes whenever the two sisters are together resonates forward and backward in time.
Where the venue hampers the play is where distance and height are needed when Stella has been whisked away after Stanley explodes in a drunken state and starts beating her. While this Stanleyâ€™s â€śStellaaaaaaaa!!!â€ť is sincerely spoken, it would resound more desperately if there were more space for it to echo.
This production of A Streetcar Named Desire, in its two-and-a-half-hour uncut mounting, has enough delicious moments that capture the intricacies of the human spirit, so beautifully expressed in Williamsâ€™ great dramatic poetry, to make it well worth the short journey South of Market.
A Streetcar Named Desire, as part of Tenn Will, continues (various dates/times) until Sept. 5 at Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma Street, San Francisco. Tickets ($20 to $25; $40 for all 3) call (415) 776-1747 or at boxcartheatre.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.