A Streetcar Named Desire
Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize Winning 1947 drama "A Streetcar Named Desire" is a classic study of incomplete personalities in toxic proximity. As directed by Vicki Schairer, Wax Wings Productions' presentation of the play has clean, thrillingly sharp edges and delectably nuanced performances.
Stanley Kowalski (Jesse James Woods) is a native denizen of his environment. Though of Polish American descent, he's very much a product of New Orleans, as comfortable in his Faubourg Marigny neighborhood as he is in his own skin. In some ways he's not so much down to earth as up from it, a man in the stripe of mythical Adam: Red mud and pure animal response.
Stanley's wife Stella, as played by Jacqui Dupré, walks in Stanley's earthly garden and enjoys the magnetic, forceful, sometimes violent manner of her husband's conduct. The two characters present one age-old view of men and women and a life made in a union of the two genders: She's the graciousness that tempers brute expression, he the drive that propels achievement. Their connection is wild, sexual, and fulfilling; it's also led to the inevitable result, given that Stella is now in the early stages of pregnancy.
The Kowalskis aren't rich, but neither are they dirt poor; not for nothing does costumer Melanie Hardy clothe Stanley and Stella in 1940s-era wardrobes that are both sturdy and elegant, and set designer Megan Mineen underscore the sense of post-war prosperity beginning to lift their little family up: A vintage "frigid air" icebox takes place of pride on Mineen's set, which is littered with similar touches speaking to how the couple stand on the threshold of middle class respectability.
Enter Blanche Dubois (Danielle Kellerman), Stella's somewhat regal sister. Though Blanche bears bad news about the loss of the family estate (or what's left of it after generations of dissolute living by the Dubois menfolk) and her own shattered nerves, she's also come armed with a trunk of fancy clothing and her own air of antebellum Southern aristocracy. Stanley is, of course, instant sandpaper to Blanche's highly cultivated veneer, and the two loathe one another from their first meeting.
There's more to Blanche than she's owning up to, however, and, bit by bit her story emerges in a more complete form: Even as Stella's baby bump grows more pronounced, a picture of her sister's domino series of scandals fills in, starting with her tragic marriage to a closeted gay man and his subsequent suicide, Blanche's deep distress and alcoholism, and her eventual descent into a life spent in the arms of a succession of men -- culminating in an affair with an underage teen at the school where she had taught English.
Blanche is a twofold tragic figure, being mentally ill but also inculcated into a belief that to be genteel -- that is, to be a lady despite her salacious past -- she must make a career of being some man's arm candy. When Stanley's friend Mitch (Patrick Curran) drifts into her path, grieving for his dying mother and needing a wife of his own, it seems for a time that his interests and Blanche's will coincide. But can such an unstable situation ever settle into something workable? And would the highly judgmental and unequally applied mores of the place and the time ever allow a woman with Blanche's past to reclaim the dignities of her pedigree, however imaginary they might be?
The work done by this stellar ensemble is electric, sometimes hair-raising. Schairer draws colorful, dimensional performances from the cast and ensures that the lighting scheme and Andrew Paul Jackson's sound design support and emphasize their work. Schairer also knows exactly how to deploy the play's minor characters, who flesh out the setting but also deepen the principle characters by providing murky reflections of who they are and how they relate; especially effective in this manner are Wendy Bellevue and Kyle Blanchette, who play upstairs neighbors Eunice and Steve. The Kowalskis have one or two intense scenes of physical confrontation that range from the bellicose to the passionate; the sounds of Eunice and Steve tearing into one another comes like an echo of those fractious, blazing moments.
Wax Wings wanted to bring the city of New Orleans to the confines of The Factory Theater. They succeeded; indeed, they created an entire world on their stage.
"A Streetcar Named Desire" continues through July 7 at the Factory Theater. For tickets and more information, please visit http://waxwingsproductions.com