Through Sun 10/28
Dane C.T. Leasure is artistic director of Rubber City Theatre, a company that produces Shakespearean comedies and tragedies, American theater revivals, musicals and world premieres by new and emerging playwrights. It’s a small company with a reputation for outstanding performances, superb direction and accessible productions.
This production of one of Tennessee Williams most lionized plays and, some claim, one of the finest American plays of the 20th century, is a success in direction and presentation. Directed with profound insight and sensitivity by Katie Wells, this production stands out for its strikingly strong performances by Chelsea Cannon (Stella Kowalski) and her sister Mary Werntz (Blanche DuBois). Cannon’s performance gleams like a multifaceted gem, sparkling with buoyancy and lusty realism in moments, effervescing into wit and familial warmth in others, and delving almost imperceptibly to shattered, withdrawn spouse in others. Her Stella stands as a stark contrast to her husband Stanley’s (Michael Gatto) angry brute and sister Stella’s fanciful, delicate femme fatale.
The play opens with Blanche DuBois arriving by streetcar to New Orleans’ French Quarter, overwrought with fatigue as she searches for Stella’s address. Blanche seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown after being put out of the family’s Mississippi plantation due to an alluded bankruptcy and has arrived with nowhere else to go. Her sister’s abrasive husband questions her, assuming the sale of any of his in-laws’ property should include a share for him. Stella tries to smooth over Stanley’s irascibility while covering for Blanche’s whimsical impracticality and social snobbery.
The audience finds out that Stella is pregnant and wants to keep the news from her sister, fearing that further stress could push Blanche over the edge. Stanley breaks the news to his sister-in-law, hoping to guilt her into leaving when Stella is out of earshot.
Gatto portrays Stanley like a ticking time bomb everyone is trying to evade but cannot ignore. At moments he is pitiful, lacking in social graces; brooding, but eager for his wife’s approval. Stanley goes off on a bender in the middle of a poker game, blaming his losses on Blanche’s unplanned visit and dissolves into an abusive outrage that he twists against Stella when she protectively rushes to defend her sister. He starts to physically abuse his wife until his poker buddies intervene and he blacks out. Stella and Blanche escape and hide upstairs in Eunice’s apartment until Stanley remorsefully begs Stella to forgive him and come home. Blanche is repulsed by Stanley’s behavior and fearful for her sister and the unborn child. Stella tries to smooth over the angry altercation and alludes to being stimulated by Stanley’s occasional outbursts, which further infuriates Blanche.
Mary Werntz breathes fresh life into a character of old southern charm. She is a modern-day woman who is fatigued by a life of hardship and loss. This Blanche is wise and stoic but has learned that charm and wit are masks for survival. Blanche is loving and protective of her sister and tender in her genuine flirtation with Mitch (Scott Crim), a paramour who has maintained a taxing but lengthy friendship with Stanley. Mr. Crim’s Mitch is multidimensional in a performance that is convincingly naïve, compassionate, and solicitous. Mitch is charming, protective and gallant with Blanche and the two characters share a believable vulnerability and chemistry.
Ms. Wells directs with a deftness that takes her audience on a journey filled with wit, pathos and grit. Each character is a multilayered persona who engenders audience affection and intimacy with these flawed but familiar characters and a story that is as relevant and pertinent today as it was when Streetcar debuted in 1947. This production has a rawness and urgency that should make it a box office hit with audiences of every demographic and gender.
Scenic designer Brandon Davies, lighting designer Dane Leasure, sound designer Hazen Tobar and costume designer Camille Lerner contribution to an accurate, colorful and gripping depiction of New Orleans that is as contemporary and consequential to the story as the play’s plot and characters. This production is laudable and should garner lots of discussion about sexual conflict and domestic abuse. Tennessee Williams created characters whose relatability withstand the test of time and venue and Rubber City Theater has produced a remarkable tour de force with sparse but elegant staging.
[Written by Lisa Rene DeBenedictis]