|"Stella-a-a-a-ar!": "A Streetcar Named Desire," at the Harrison Hilltop Theatre|
|Theatre - Reviews|
|Written by Mike Schulz|
|Friday, 29 August 2008 09:01|
Well, it turns out that crossing my fingers and rubbing my lucky rabbit's foot didn't do a damned bit of good, as the Harrison Hilltop Theatre's A Streetcar Named Desire closed, after a mere four performances, on August 31. (There was a chance that the show - originally scheduled to open August 21, but delayed due to scheduling conflicts - would run one or two more times in September, yet subsequent scheduling conflicts wound up precluding a second weekend.) Thursday's production was so enjoyable, though, and Kimberly Furness, Eddie Staver III, and Stephanie Burrough were so thrillingly good in it, that I'm more than happy to offer a post-mortem; had director Derek Bertelsen's take on Tennessee Williams' classic run another weekend, it's unimaginable that any devotee of the art of acting would've even thought of missing it.
But allow me to make a few things clear, especially for those who may feel as strongly about this particular Williams piece as I do. (Aside from O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, A Streetcar Named Desire is my favorite American play.) First off, Harrison Hilltop's production didn't feature full blackouts between scenes, and didn't feature a scene-change crew, so sequences ended with performers exiting in half-light, occasionally having to move props and make scenic adjustments themselves. Considering the intimate playing area, these were necessary evils. But they were also unfortunate ones, because upon watching Furness' Blanche DuBois collapse after shrieking, "Fire! Fire! Fire!", or Staver's Stanley Kowalski throwing Blanche to the bed with an insinuating "We've had this date with each other from the beginning," you didn't want to witness the actors quickly regroup for a costume change or the re-positioning of a set piece. Instead of lingering during the scene shifts, the production's dramatic urgency tended to wane.
And while Bertelsen and production designer Tristan Tapscott did a mostly outstanding job of fitting Streetcar to the specifications of their space, the lack of certain production niceties was sometimes detrimental, especially in the famed scene in which Stanley explodes at the poker table and bellows "Stella!" to the upstairs window. Without a shower for the over-heated Stanley to be thrown into, the character's transition from drunken monster to apologetic wreck occurred too quickly - despite Staver's best efforts, this sudden turnaround didn't make much sense - and without a staircase for her to walk down, Stella's return to Stanley was similarly expedient. Stanley howled, Stella appeared, and Williams' beautiful, voiceless rush of contrasting emotions was lost. (Also missing from the scene was its climax, in which Mitch comforts a disbelieving Blanche.)
So no, this Streetcar wasn't perfect. The script, however, is about as close to perfect as theatre gets, and when Williams' rich, glorious language is delivered with the breathtaking passion, grace, and commitment that it was here, complaints turn into mere quibbles.
At some point, perhaps, I might stop being floored by the talents of Furness, Staver, and Reader employee Burrough (who played Stella). But considering how thoroughly these magical actors inhabit each new character, and how continually inventive and smart and fully realized each new performance is, I wouldn't bet on it. I can think of no higher praise than to say that all three of them, in Streetcar, appeared to be working at peak ability, and if you've seen the actors' work in the past, you know those are some serious peaks. Just listening to Furness' raw, naked desperation on Blanche's line "I don't want realism, I want magic!", or watching Staver's frightening, pained brutality as Stanley clears his dinner plate, or witnessing Burrough's heartbreaking acknowledgement of Stanley's cruelty left you shaken, yet even at their most emotionally wrenching, these portrayals were blazingly alive with performance joy - with the thrill of discovery.
These actors (and the playwright, of course) were only the most obvious of Streetcar's many, many pleasures. We were also treated to an absolutely first-rate turn by Jeff De Leon, whose Mitch was a noticeable - i.e., young and good-looking - break from tradition, and who invested his character's timid gentility with understated poignance and good humor. And there was practically no end to the lovely grace notes that Bertelsen and his cast provided: the touching shyness of J.W. Hertner's Young Collector, who, when accepting Blanche's kiss, didn't know what to do with his hands; the haunting, faraway call of "Flores para los muertos," which seemed to be emanating directly from Blanche's tortured psyche; Blanche's slow removal of her robe, presenting Mitch with everything he'd ever wanted but realized he no longer wanted; the clipped steeliness of Wendy Czekalski's nurse, instantly shattering Blanche's dreams of escape; the pause preceding Blanche's acceptance of the doctor's hand, as she recognized a long-prayed-for act of mercy.
Produced with love and performed with exceptional skill, A Streetcar Named Desire, despite its hiccups, was a smashing offering, and I thank Bertelsen, the show's cast (rounded out by Gary Baker and Alexa Florence as Steve and Eunice), and Harrison Hilltop for presenting it, even if the show's run was sadly abbreviated. The production did exactly what a Streetcar should - it delivered realism and magic.
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