This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tennessee Williams, arguably the greatest of American playwrights. I’ve written at length about it, so I won’t go on here. It’s the Village Playhouse’s turn to get in on the Williams love. They kick off their 11th season with A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Keely Enright, who also pulls double duty playing Blanche Dubois.
Everything about this production has a frayed edge. The gorgeous set (designed by Enright and built by David Reinwald) has beautiful facades and archways, but broken beams and walls that are missing boards. It’s as if this world is peeling away, leaving only fractions of home and happiness, with empty nothingness hovering underneath. What things should be, what they are, and what they want to be is constantly at odds in this play about sisters in 1940s New Orleans.
Enright and Katie Huard play the sisters, both from formerly wealthy stock. Enright peels Blanche back a little slowly, but when the lower levels arrive they leave scars. Huard, as Stella, makes the pain hiding under the married woman’s mask of courtesy and love scream to the rafters. It’s in her eyes. This is a talented and experienced cast.
The show doesn’t quite get going, however, until Paul Rolfes (as Stanley Kowalski, Stella’s husband) brings his considerable presence to the stage. The women are forced to keep up. It’s a harsh role and blunt, but not without nuance. Rolfes is up to the task. You can see the resentment in his face. Feel the tension when he enters a room. He’s an animal who hates being reminded of it, and the women don’t see what they’re doing to him until far too late.
While Rolfes, Huard, and Enright are talented stars, some of the scenes lack that spark of true chemistry. The opening of the play doesn’t quite hook you, and the final confrontation between Blanche and Stanley falls a little flat. The same cannot be said of the scenes between Blanche and her suitor Mitch (played with touching heart by Josh Wilhoit). The loneliness between these two lost people, unable to come together, is the most heartbreaking in the play. They nail it.
The set looks great, and the actors are capable. But sometimes you’ll have trouble seeing it. The lighting leaves a great deal to be desired. It straddles the line of natural and stylistic, but stumbles over both. Several tableaus left actors out of their light, and several scenes occur in some very awkward lighting. Shadows hover over faces, and the lights shift during scenes, apparently at a whim.
You may also have a bit of trouble hearing the show. Some of the dialogue gets lost in the house, and patrons sitting closer than I was complained of not being able to hear either. A bit of it is the drum of the air conditioner. The fluctuating volume of Enright’s vocal performance is another issue, especially in early scenes. She improves as the show goes on, and none of the supporting cast has this problem.
And it is a long show. It clocks in at almost three hours. The cast has to be tired. You will be too on the way out. It’s draining stuff. And touching, since the production is dedicated to the memory of Gene Glave, a Village Playhouse contributor and performer for the life of the company. They do her justice, and start the season on a firm footing.
Michael Smallwood is a local actor who most recently appeared in PURE Theatre’s Superior Donuts and Race.
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