A Streetcar Named Desire at Barrington Stage Company
Aug. 12, 2009 matinee performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
Director Julianne Boyd’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Barrington Stage Company is a masterful, dynamic, sensitive and deeply moving revival of the Tennessee Williams masterpiece.
The four actors in the play’s leading roles, Marin Mazzie (Blanche), Christopher Innvar (Stanley) Kim Staffer (Stella) and Kevin Carolan (Mitch) each bring individual reads on their characters, undeterred by those of previous actors’ famed performances.
Mazzie gives us a sympathetic Blanche who, reared in the protective romantic grace of Bella Reve’s plantation, has become a fallen angel seeking protection from her younger sister Stella, and arriving on that symbolic streetcar, despite her own lost state, can still believe she can find redemption.
Dismayed at the sordid situation and poverty in the slum apartment, she lies hours in a hot bath, somehow believing it can wash her clean, and in it is when she emerges clad in her long pink robe that we see the once beautiful, but oh-so-fragile girl she once was. One so vulnerable that despite her hopes in a dull, but clean and decent man like Mitch being ready to marry her, in the end can docilely go off, meekly grateful for the kindness of strangers.
Innvar’s Stanely, as written by Williams, stresses his animal sexuality, and it is present from his first entrance as he dashes into the apartment and hurls a package of bloody meat which Stella catches before he flings her on the bed for a quick romp. He is quick, crude, unsentimental.
Not remaining at the hospital to await the birth of his baby, he finds it better to return to the apartment for the night and, in anger, rape Blanche—her final degradation. His is a seemingly impossible role to make sympathetic in any way. And yet at times he does so. His very aliveness is a magnet that has drawn Stella to him.
Stauffer has the difficult task of convincing us she is two-sided. She can remember Bella Reve but leave it behind her, welcome her own sexuality in her love for Stanley and her joy in the coming baby.
Opening her humble home gladly to Blanche, but not daring to tell Stanley that Blanche is coming, is her first step in traveling the hard days of loving the lost sister whom she cannot save. From Stanley she has gained a strength Blanche has never known. Her life will go on, without Blanche whom she would have saved had she been able.
Carolan’s role of Mitch is smaller one but played convincingly and honestly. He is a simple good man, who has lived his life with his mother, who is attracted by Blanche’s fragility and blandishments, but shocked at the reality of the situation once he understands it. He suffers a sense of shame in not defending her against her departure, but can return to the poker game after a defensive fight.
The final scene of the play has all four players so exactly in character, so hopelessly in character, that it breaks the heart even though at intermission you have tried to steel yourself for it, knowing what has to come for all of them.
Around these characters are the upstairs neighbors, the street goers, and the lovely singers of this Latin Quarter, threading the scenes together.
And the scenes are played out in a magnificent set, designed by Brian Prather. Williams has asked for a detailed one and nothing has been denied him. Go early and examine its detail before the play starts. Many playing areas are cavalierly asked for by the playwright and they are all there and eminently playable.
The opportunity to see this play in this production has been one of the high spots of this reviewer’s summer.