‘Streetcar’ follows track of well-worn period atmosphere
In some ways, “A Streetcar Named Desire” is like a finely bound old book. The binding may be a bit worn and some of the story feels a bit old-fashioned. But the currents of desire and power that run beneath the action are eternal.
It’s been nearly 70 years since playwright Tennessee Williams’ play won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize. So, some of the attitudes and viewpoints that propel the drama forward — how men interact with or view women, an acceptance of violence in marriage — bring a distracting “ick” factor to some scenes.
Barebones Productions’ creative team and director Melissa Martin blunt some of that reaction by securely anchoring the play in its original post-World War II period. Set designer Tony Ferrieri provides us a sturdy, but run-down-looking, two-story set that reminds us we are in a low-income New Orleans neighborhood. Costume designer Richard Parsakian garbs the cast in outfits that are true to the period and indicators of the variety of economic status or aspirations of the characters.
You’re probably familiar with at least the outlines of the storyline: After losing her job and the family’s plantation home, Blanche DuBois turns up at her sister Stella’s one-room New Orleans apartment looking for a new start.
Blanche is appalled that her sister has happily chosen a husband for carnal, not financial, reasons. But she is both repulsed by and attracted to her sister’s rough, uneducated husband, Stanley. While the fragile Blanche searches for emotional and financial support, Stanley sets about discovering the secrets Blanche hoped to leave behind.
It’s easy to see this will not end well.
It’s a long play — three hours, including a 10-minute intermission. But Martin’s direction moves the proceedings along with efficiency.
The cast is first-rate. Patrick Jordan creates a savvy-but-suspicious Stanley, who knows how to do a background check or kill a relationship. Jenna C. Johnson provides us with a Stella who is young, fresh and clearly smitten with Stanley.
What’s surprising is that the sexual tension that should be driving the play remains largely buried. Stella’s playful girlishness minimizes the sexual desire that binds her to Stanley.
Interactions between Tami Dixon’s Blanche and Jordan’s Stanley remain business-like or mildly flirtatious. For a woman who’s supposedly delusional, Dixon’s Blanche can certainly hold her own against Stanley when discussing finance and real estate.
But the real heart of this production lies in the sub-plot — the evolving relationship between tortured, emotionally delicate Blanche and Jeffrey Carpenter’s lonely Harold Mitchell.
Their burgeoning relationship is a meeting of minds, not bodies. Its destruction becomes the real tragedy of this drama.