Tuesday, June 4, 2013

REVIEW: OSF's "A Streetcar Named Desire"

I never much cared for Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning classic drama "A Streetcar Named Desire," but then, I'd only seen the movie. Those who regularly read my blog know I'm not one for "gloomy" theater.

I recently took a trip to New Orleans and had the opportunity to see first hand the city where Williams lived and wrote--and wrote about.

Furthermore, I have always wanted to go but had never been to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore. Thanks to Dennis Sparks and the comp press tix from OSF I was finally able to go.

Kate Mulligan (Blanche) and Danforth Comins (Stanley).
All Photographs and Video provided by OSF.
Needless to say the experience so far has been quite good. I really enjoyed "Streetcar" even though it addressed some darker issues. It was well presented, well acted and, of course, well written. There was still a lot of comedy, too, and, overall, highly entertaining (though I do not recommend it for children).

The Tale:

Southern aristocrat Blanche, down on her luck, is reduced to living with her sister Stella and Stella’s pugnacious blue-collar husband, Stanley. Life with them in their tiny tenement apartment is unbearable until a kindly suitor appears and seems to offer Blanche a ticket to a better life. But Stanley, bristling at Blanche’s high-handed dismissal of him, sets out to dismantle her genteel facade, hurtling them toward an epic battle.

The Talent:

Stanley pleads with Stella to return.
The cast was simply delightful. Nell Geisslinger slightly underplayed her role as Stella while Kate Mulligan slightly overplayed her role as Blanche. The rest of the cast matched each other in the playing of their roles. In other words they worked on the same level of realism. Blanche is a difficult role to nail and Mulligan seemed just a little over the top, bringing a fantasy level to the character. Jeffery King played Harold with an excellent touch of nervous and nice. But it was Danforth Comins who played Stanley to perfection. He was ideal in accent, physicality, facial expression and emotion.

The Technical:

The set was beautiful--a wrought iron, three-story build which was 'weighted' toward the top and leaning over the primary acting area--suggesting a tipping sanity. At one point rain dripped down the partially clear facade adding a nice effect. The set was well lit to great effect and the cues were beautifully executed. Haze was used  in such a way that it added a dreamy quality to the upper stories of the set and highlighted the lighting.

Costume and set dressing were particularly well done with great attention to detail--even a JAX Brewery box (a NOLA tradition). The sound design was excellent. The direction, by Christopher Acebo, was nicely handled.

Content Notes:

"For viewers familiar solely with the popular movie, the original stage version of 'Streetcar' may be a surprise with its more explicit dialogue" [although tame in comparison to many contemporary plays]. There is some explicit touch (groping) and sexuality, the use of profanity (including the Lord's name), smoking, drinking to excess, domestic violence, and male buttocks are seen briefly.

Streetcar runs now through November 2. Dates, times and ticket information here. This is a quality production and I highly recommend a trip to Ashland to see this play and experience OSF.

By Gregory E. Zschomler
Get Dennis Sparks' review here.
All photographs and video provided.

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