A Streetcar Named Desire

Screenshot (38)Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is a troubling and troublesome play.
Troubling because it is still, even at 71 years old, emotionally harrowing and often deeply disturbing. It delves into mental illness, spousal abuse, and rape and wraps the pain, the suffering, and the violence in amazingly poetic language, full of rhythm and metaphor. Its characters draw us in, simultaneously repulsing and attracting. It leaves us shocked and saddened. Troubled.

It is troublesome in its antiquated indictments of homosexuality and female sexuality, as well as its clumsy use of race. Yet these problematic attitudes seem strangely relevant in today’s political climate, within a more enlightened perspective.

Streetcar also runs just over three hours, which has the potential to be a long, painful evening at the theater. However, stage director Art DeConciliis does a nice job of keeping the pace brisk and the action moving furiously toward the conclusion of Little Lake Theatre Company’s production, which opened July 12, 2018.

Little Lake is producing Streetcar for the first time in its 70-year history, and DeConciliis and company deliver an unsentimental production that keeps out of the way of Williams’ language, allowing it to remind the audience what is so vibrantly genius about the script.

Mr. DeConciliis has some trouble with the in-the-round nature of Little Lake’s physical stage at times, but, for the most part, he uses the space effectively. The stage itself is a little too small for the large set requirements of Streetcar, but DeConciliis manages to deal with the challenges successfully.

Oddly, there are no designers listed in the program for Streetcar, so it is unclear if there are any designers attached to the show, or if the work was just piecemealed together by the technical team and the director. It is, therefore, difficult to know what to say about the design aesthetic. The set is serviceable, if slightly problematic with its curtain hanging in the middle of the set, cutting off visibility for some of the audience. The lighting suffers from the problem of trying to light in-the-round without blinding the audience, resulting in the actors’ faces being cast in shadow a good portion of the time. Costumes are sometimes inconsistent with the 1950’s setting, but not so much that it is distracting. So, all in all, the “design” provides for the basic needs of the production without distinguishing itself.

To tell the truth, the acting company doesn’t really have the full skill set required to create complex, subtle depictions of the incredibly difficult characters in Streetcar. Accents are often spotty. Acting choices are often overdone and over-wrought. The subtext is lost. What they do offer are brave, open-eyed renditions of their characters, unafraid to show the audience the unlikeable, the cruel, the strange. Buddy Wickerham embraces the violence of Stanley Kowalski. Jena Oberg unapologetically owns the compromised Stella Kowalski. Gregory Caridi shoulders the weaknesses of Harold “Mitch” Mitchell. And Ponny Conomos Jahn revels in Blanche DuBois’s vulnerability, her conniving, her selfishness, and her brokenness. The performances aren’t perfect, but they are admirable.

I want to particularly laud Ms. Jahn and Mr. Caridi for their opening night performances. Anyone who has ever acted knows it is hard enough to put yourself in front of an audience; it’s just the actor with their body and emotions, out there, being vulnerable, trying to serve the story. It’s a tough gig. And it’s made even tougher when audience members are disruptive and disrespectful during a performance, as they were during the final, highly emotional confrontation scene between Blanche and Mitch. During Little Lake’s opening performance, there was a disruptive couple that started talking loudly, making rude comments about the show, and aggressively making “shushing” noises to audience members around them who were trying to get them to be quiet. It was incredibly inconsiderate to both audience and actors. However, Ms. Jahn and Mr. Caridi kept focused and committed and stayed emotionally connected during this critical scene. I applaud them.

This is the second time in the last few months that middle-aged people who should know better have behaved egregiously at a show I was seeing. I must ask, what is going on? And I urge us all as audience members to remember that the people putting on these performances are just that, people, human beings with feelings, and they deserve our respect during the performance.

But, back to Streetcar, it’s not often one gets a chance to see a fully produced production of A Streetcar Named Desire. There was a 2015 production at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and a 2014 production by barebones productions, but, in general, Tennessee Williams shows are not as ubiquitous in the region as other work, it seems. So, if you are looking for a good introduction to Williams, Little Lake Theatre Company’s production might just be the thing for you. The show runs through July 28, 2018. For more information, visit https://www.littlelake.org.

Categories: Archived Reviews

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