By Jordan Wright (Photo/Matthew Randall)
The South of playwright Tennessee Williams was a passionate, yet unhurried, hotbed of emotion.
His characters were real — too real for some when “A Streetcar Named Desire” premiered on Broadway in 1947 — but nonetheless part of the daily fabric of life. With this work, Williams cracked open the Pandora’s Box of life’s countless miseries and shone a light into the destructive relationships women enter into and the ways they deal with the evil things men do.
Though considered radical in its day, the play’s themes of homosexuality, immigration, race, class and domestic violence remain relevant today. Despite major advances in all those areas, we are still grappling with these issues.
How these underlying themes and intense emotions are explored in the play is riveting in a perverse sort of way. The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s rendition of the classic is poignant, tragic, relevant and grotesquely intimate all at the same time.
When faded southern belle Blanche arrives at her sister’s two-room apartment in New Orleans with a suitcase full of feather boas and heartbreaks, she crosses paths with Stella’s lowlife of a husband, Stanley Kowalski, a Polish factory worker who is light-years removed from the sisters’ highborn upbringing. Blanche is shocked to see her sister married to a man as abusive and uncultivated as Stanley.
“He’s a different species,” Stella explains.
Blanche tries to win Stanley over with her feminine wiles and upper class charm, but he does not buy it, or her excuses for forfeiting her family’s plantation home. Both Blanche — who uses fantasy and seduction to cope with life’s disappointments — and Stella, who confuses brutality with love, allow Stanley to dominate them.
Anna Fagan plays the submissive Stella, approaching the duality of her character’s Stockholm Syndrome-like condition with a blend of subtle poise and ferocity. Yet it is Jennifer Berry as Blanche who has the most quotable lines. Berry does a fine job of portraying her character as flighty and vulnerable, giving a creditable portrait of a woman clawing her way out of desperate circumstances.
“I haven’t been so good, these last few years,” she admits when accused of debauchery.
Unfortunately, Camden Michael Gonzalez seems miscast as Stanley. In a role that demands more complexity than a one-dimensional portrait of a brute, his interpretation of the character lacks pathos and gravitas. Surprisingly, the lesser role of Blanche’s suitor Harold “Mitch” Mitchell, as played by Marshall Shirley, shows greater depth.
Baron Pugh’s clever set design of the apartment’s soulless interior is framed by a two-story muslin scrim that soft-focuses the outside world, yet lets in music and the sights and sounds of the mean streets (regrettably, the din is often easier to hear than the actors’ lines). Another wrinkle in this production is its hurried pacing, which feels more like being in the industrialized North than the calmer South.
Even so, for those who have never experienced one of Williams’ plays, the searing action, plot twists and memorable lines are eternally delicious.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” runs through September 28 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St. For tickets and information call the box office at 703-683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com