A Streetcar Named Desire is a timeless classic for a reason. The poetry of this play lands just as strongly today as I imagine it did when it premiered in 1947. Many have said that the character of Blanche is supposed to represent Williams himself, her fragilities meant to mirror his own after his newfound success after writing Glass Menagerie.
The story takes place in New Orleans where sex and music vibrate from every surface. The weight of the heat makes clothes stick and tempers and passions flair. Blanche and Stella are sisters, brought up with wealth. Stella has married the working-class brute, Stanley. She forgives him for much of his behaviour, the glue of their relationship is their insatiable passion for one another. Blanche comes to live with them, existing largely in her imagination of what was or what might have been. Blanche’s world crashes and we witness the slow decline of her sanity.
Weyni Mengesha unearths this world in an exciting way. I really felt New Orleans in the theatre, largely because of the amazing live musical elements she brought in. The set is long sheets of corrugated metal and a section lifts revealing a sexy musical ensemble, pulsating jazz. They are used several times throughout, even parading through the audience. The music was fantastic and added such an important element to the show.
The set created by Lorenzo Savoini had elements of the era and also modern aspects, such as the phone which was not a rotary. It was obviously a conscious choice to not stick with the era of the time and have it be non-specific. There were a few very cool elements surrounding the bed, which is central to the story. One part was fantastically surprising, but I won’t give a spoiler with it. I was bothered by how the set pieces all seemed so flimsy and unsafe and how the bed kept shifting around. That also may have been intentional to reflect how fragile Blanche was, but that was something that bumped me out of the show as I wondered if a wall would collapse on the actors.
Rachel Forbes costume design tied in with the non-specific time period with touches of the era mixed in with more modern shoes, slacks and the like. She had the men appropriately attired with tank tops, Hawaiian shirts and blue jeans. Blanche had some beautiful pieces like the white pant suit she arrived in. It was a blend of faded elegance, lots of soft textures, diaphanous scarves and interesting shapes.
The performances were strong. Mac Fyfe roared around the stage, fierce and strong as Stanley. His ‘Stella’ scene was especially robust and emotional. Akosua Amo-Adem gave a grounded, amusing and sensitive performance as Eunice. Gregory Prest played Mitch with an understated and affecting portrayal. Leah Doz won me over with Stella, but she seemed to get off to a rocky start. The accent slipped away for a time but later she settled in and had some very strong moments. Amy Rutherford was a force as Blanche. She played the complexities so well, filled with emotional life, sensitivity and ultimately a dramatic downfall. I longed to see the love between the two sisters more finely tuned.
This play is a beast to perform but this production was exciting and alive. This is a streetcar you definitely don’t want to miss.
Cover photo: Gregory Prest and Amy Rutherford. Photo by Dahlia Katz