Stanley Kowalski looms so large in our cultural conscience that it’s easy to forget that “A Streetcar Named Desire” is really about Blanche DuBois, his emotionally disturbed sister-in-law. Much of that is due to Marlon Brando’s iconic portrayal of Kowalski in Elia Kazan’s 1951 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ landmark drama (he originated the role onstage, too), a performance so captivating and animalistic that it changed the trajectory of modern acting.
And yet “Streetcar” is, of course, Blanche’s story; in fact, Stanley disappears for much of the play’s middle section. Watching Spokane Civic Theatre’s current production of the show, it occurred to me that Blanche seems more like a real person than most theatrical characters, because she’s allowed to be so many seemingly contradictory things at once – demure, flamboyant, compassionate, detached, wounded, predatory.
Alyssa Day takes on the role in the Civic’s production, and it’s an unsurprisingly juicy performance. As Williams’ classic opens, the recently widowed Blanche has just arrived in New Orleans, moving in with her younger sister Stella (Nichole Dumoulin) and uncouth brother-in-law Stanley (Billy Hultquist) for an undetermined amount of time.
The Kowalskis live in a two-room apartment in a shabby French Quarter tenement building, where their neighbors squabble as loudly and frequently as they do. The play traps us in the apartment for four or five months, and Matthew Egan’s beautiful set captures the feeling of a home that’s both a sanctuary and a prison…
The Civic’s production, directed by Troy Nickerson, turns out to be a compelling piece of vintage theater, but I have to wonder if it isn’t quite sweaty and feverish enough. That’s not to say this show is completely subdued or boring, but it sometimes feels too much like a reverent museum piece. Perhaps I’m comparing it unfairly to Kazan’s great film, which better communicated the oppressive heat and menacing carnality of Williams’ script.
But maybe playing this material a bit quieter deepens the impact of the show’s unexpected emotional outbursts. The show is anchored by a quartet of superlative performances: Hultquist as the hulking, bestial Stanley; Goodwin as the kindhearted but fickle Mitch; Dumoulin as Stella, nurturing to a fault; and Day as Blanche…
Review by Nathan Weinbender of the Spokesman Review
Photo by Chris Wooley of Heads and Tails Photography