Entertainment » Theatre

A Streetcar Named Desire

by Daniel Scheffler
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Thursday May 10, 2012
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Mitch (Harris) and Blanche (Nicole Ari Parker) on a date in "A Streetcar Named Desire"
Mitch (Harris) and Blanche (Nicole Ari Parker) on a date in "A Streetcar Named Desire"  (Source:Ken Howard)

"A Streetcar Named Desire" is still on route with the latest production directed by Emily Mann with its African-American/Latina cast.

Tennessee Williams has this ability to haunt every era. This is the case in the Broadhurst’s staging of "A Streetcar Named Desire." Originally staged in the ’40s where Marlon Brando impressed, and most notably again in the early ’90s when Jessica Lange poisoned the stage, this play eclipses time with its sexual references, its blatant homosexual allusion and class fray.

The play deals primarily with the age-old culture clash between the old moneyed hierarchy and the working class. This is perhaps even more so relevant right now, as the Obama/Romney duel inflames.

Blanche DuBois (played electrically by Nicole Ari Parker) is the quintessential faded bombshell that arrives at the home of her sister Stella (played tenderly by Daphne Rubin-Vega) who has given up her fancy life and has settled for a more modest life with her red-blooded husband Stanley Kowalski (aggressively played by stud Blair Underwood) in New Orleans.

The Desire Line that is referenced upon Blanche’s arrival and made allusion to by her behavior throughout the play, runs through the French Quarter of New Orleans and Blanche happens to gets off at Elysian Field.

Blanche, who clearly has a drinking problem that she attempts to hide, arrives with great dividends of fantasy in this humble part of town and uses all her charm to appear classy and cultured. But Stanley is suspicious and untrusting of this whirlwind of emotions, determined to find fault in this Southern belle.

Blanche babbles and reveals her real reason for visiting to her sister as she tells of the loss of their heritage, which included a plantation, Belle Reve. She goes on to say that her supervisor at the school where she is an English teacher encouraged her to take time off to calm her nerves. In fact, she had been caught in a compromising position with a minor.

Blanche DuBois (played electrically by Nicole Ari Parker) is the quintessential faded bombshell that arrives at the home of her sister Stella (played tenderly by Daphne Rubin-Vega).

But that was not the only place that Blanche had been looking for love and acceptance. She had been enjoying sexual pleasures across her little town of Laurel with various men.

Her heartbreak, which led her to this promiscuity, came from her husband’s gay affair with an older gentleman. This appears to be something she just couldn’t reconcile in herself, as her love for him was too great to get over such a disaster.

Parker seems to sweat this hurt all over the stage with great conviction as she spins herself into a make believe world of daydreams. In particular, her melodramatic acting, associated with the original play, is cleverly sighed, gestured and fluttered across the stage.

In parallel and perfectly polarized is Stanley whose primal, ape-like way, although brutal, is all about reality and delving into the grit of life. Underwood takes this masculine force to great extremes as he manhandles his wife and drips testosterone all over her. Upset and disrupted by Blanche’s arrival, he is determined to expose her fantasies.

In the meantime, Blanche is actively man hunting as she is out of pocket and desperately searching for someone who would love and accept her, although she is slightly aged now. Enter Stanley’s friend Mitch (sweetly played by Wood Harris) who at first is enamored by Blanche and then his dreamy outlook gets polluted by Stanley’s embittered reminders of Blanche’s past.

As Stella is out at the hospital having her baby, Stanley and Blanche seem to reach a ledge of confrontation where forceful Stanley ravishes Blanche, leading to her complete destruction and admission into a mental institution.

A sterling set (Eugene Lee) that incorporated the most perfect lighting techniques gave the Southern heat wave a palpable quality, along with the sexiness associated with the play.

"A Streetcar Named Desire" runs through July 22 at The Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street. For info or tickets call 212-560-2193 or visit broadhurst.nycboxoffice.com

Based between New York and Cape Town, Daniel Scheffler writes about socio political and travel matters and is working on a memoir. Follow him on Twitter @danielscheffler.

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