"I don't want realism. I want magic!" shouts Blanche DuBois, preaching desperately to the choir. Maybe all she really needs is some therapy — perhaps the Faded Southern Belles Borderline Psychosis Support Group? For good or ill, the story turns out the same in Boiler Room Theatre's revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, a production that has its galvanizing moments — but at a cost of enduring three-plus hours of histrionics, of varying quality.
Director Corbin Green's efforts to reinvigorate this venerable work, now 64 years old, are game indeed. He designed the set and the lighting, and for lower-class post-World War II New Orleans you couldn't do much better. There's a fairly complex sound design as well — courtesy of Jamey Green and John Warren — that provides a steady diet of screeching cats, clattering trains and plenty of blues piano.
The biggest stumbling block to all-out success lies, oddly enough, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning script itself. Like several other great American playwrights (Eugene O'Neill, August Wilson), Tennessee Williams could be wordy, and rarely seemed interested in chiseling his dialogue into leaner form. Excess is both his strength and his curse. And so, in the absence of more urgent pacing, the cumulative effect of Blanche's delusional, cloyingly poetic speeches becomes withering, despite leading lady Corrie Miller's thoughtfully choreographed descent into madness.
Miller's not born to this role, but she shines intermittently in her careful performance. If nothing else, she manages to convey some historical literary perspective: Blanche emerges symbolically as a representation of the dying Old South, finally surrendering to the new and multiethnic factions of a more modern America.
Travis Scott Brazil, an expatriate from the Los Angeles theater and movie scene who has recently relocated to Middle Tennessee, is notable as Miller's co-star. His Stanley Kowalski is no matinee idol version of the blue-collar (or as Blanche says, "bestial") role. Proffering DeNiro-esque deliveries, Brazil makes for a squat, compact Stanley, more barrel-chested than buff, an ex-GI with primitive but honest instincts about the world at large.
Brazil's Stanley readily cues in to Blanche's fakery (cheap furs, costume jewelry, the silly airs). He also sees through her balderdash about the family plantation in Mississippi and the suspicious circumstances under which she's come to live with him and his wife, Blanche's sister Stella, portrayed with earthy spirit by Evelyn O'Neal Brush in probably the evening's strongest overall performance.
Stanley's animal magnetism and his penchant for hearty makeup sex eventually triumph over Blanche's oddball interests (astrology, among them), her drinking, a cougarish dalliance with the paperboy and her critical, highfalutin banter. The latter especially drives Stanley to aggressively extract his pound of flesh and push her beyond the brink of emotional instability. Poor Blanche — she's an annoyance, and even the audience doesn't know what to do with her by then. (There are some reverb effects used near the play's end to help affirm her crumbling mental state, providing an interesting touch.)
The supporting performances among the cast of 10 are fine, including Corey Caldwell's turn as Mitch, Stanley's regular-guy army buddy and a single man looking for a wife. You'd think Blanche would be a natural to fit into his life, being so needy and all, but she blows it because she's so out of touch with reality, and because Stanley lets Mitch in on the details of her secret, seedy past. Caldwell's enactment of the self-conscious potential beau, with his character's resultant disappointment, evokes pathos.
This Streetcar rumbles along with purpose and makes some interesting stops along the way, but it's an inconsistent ride, requiring extra vigilance and patience.
Meanwhile, BRT has announced its 2012 season, which includes the musicals Xanadu (Feb. 10-March 10), A Little Night Music (May 24-June 16), Pippin (July 6-28) and the Tennessee premiere of Parade, by Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown (Oct. 11-Nov. 2). The straight plays include Of Mice and Men (April 12-May 5) and Steel Magnolias (Aug. 16-Sept. 1).
Mary Takes Manhattan
Mary McCallum's SistaStyle Productions makes a rare New York City appearance this week at Manhattan Repertory Theatre's Summer One Act Play Series, with three performances of McCallum's original script Black Girl Lost. Workshopped recently in Nashville, the play explores the lack of media attention for missing-persons cases involving people of color. McCallum's company has made it a practice in recent summers to perform limited out-of-town runs at various festivals, thus affording exposure for the playwright's work and her company of reliable players. Besides McCallum, the play features Molly Breen, Rashad Rayford, Shawn Whitsell and Jeffrey Williams. The engagement is July 7-9 at 303 W. 42nd St. at Eighth Avenue. Performances are at 7 p.m. For more information, visit manhattanrep.com.
Best of luck Chris. I'm rooting for you.
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