This is one of the most satisfying, on-target, productions of A Streetcar Named Desire that I have seen. I am more than a little obsessed with both Tennessee Williams and New Orleans, and Emily Mann’s finely calibrated production has gotten both the locale and the author’s style exactly right. Streetcar follows former school teacher Blanche DuBois (Nicole Ari Parker), as she’s forced to move in with her sister Stella (Daphne Rubin-Vega) and her brutish husband Stanley (Blair Underwood).
The multiracial casting of this revival is handled so deftly that it’s almost a non-issue. Underwood is simply as sexy and scary – and sometimes deceptively rational – as Stanley should be. Parker underplays Blanche, letting her neuroses and hidden strengths speak for themselves. Parker’s approach is a bit too low key for my taste, but I still respect it as an intriguing, intelligent way to approach the role. And Wood Harris brings an interesting bravado to the role of Stanley’s friend Mitch, giving the role colors I’ve never seen before.
As for the New Orleans side of the issue, designer Eugene Lee’s set is the first one for a production of Streetcar that I have seen get it so painstakingly right. The part of the Marigny neighborhood that Stanley and Stella live in was run-down and unglamorous in the 1950s, there were no elegant wrought iron balconies or galleries – this isn’t the French Quarter. Everything was made of wood, and wood not in the best of condition – and that’s exactly what Lee shows us.
Jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s moody score does a good job of evoking a sweaty New Orleans summer. That said, his compositions have a post-bop sound that is seriously anachronistic in a production that is otherwise so scrupulous about getting time and place right.
This may not be a definitive Streetcar, but it is an intelligently directed, designed and acted one. I sincerely think Tennessee would have approved – I certainly do, and recommend it highly.
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