|Brandon Cox, Amy Lewis-Zeigler & Natalie Fields in A Streetcar
Named Desire. Photo courtesy of Louisville Repertory Company.
A Streetcar Named Desire
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Todd Zeigler
Reviewed by Rachel White
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Rachel White. All rights reserved.
In a note in the program of Louisville Rep’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, director Todd Zeigler suggests that our own economic downturn makes it easier to relate to the impoverished lives of the characters in Tennessee William’s great play. Maybe that’s true. Maybe these poor economic times allow us to feel a little more in touch with the dingy side of life. Certainly, to a twenty-something relatively recent graduate, the crowded two bedroom apartment of Stanley and Stella Kowalski looks familiar. The set is crowded with possessions and furniture, crammed in as if someday the characters will have enough space for it all. These people are downtrodden, and many of us can relate to that. But the real power of the play, what makes it relevant and universal, is the profound fragility of the characters. They embody our deepest fears for ourselves: complete isolation, loss of sanity, and loss of dignity and self-respect.
Amy Lewis Zeigler embodies these characteristics the most with her frazzled but deeply nuanced portrayal of Blanche Dubois. We first meet Blanche when she comes to the Kowalski’s home frail and nervous, gulping down tumblers full of liquor. There were times when I wished Miss Zeigler would put a lid on some of this anxiety. It seemed at the beginning of the play that Blanche was a little too obviously unwell, and I wondered if it would have been more intriguing if her frailty was allowed to creep out a little more subtly. Yet, as the play progressed she seemed to relax into the role, finding great moments of humor and wit that really gave the character dimension. Blanche is mentally ill, she’s an alcoholic, she’s a ruined woman, she’s destitute, and she is her own worst enemy, but she’s still a person, and Zeigler seems to understand that. The final scene between Blanche and Mitch (Sean Childress) is terrifying because Blanche is so in need of him and yet can’t let him in. There is a hint that maybe Blanche would have a chance with him if she could only tell him the truth, but she doesn’t. She lies about her past, her age, her desires, and so makes any kind of relationship impossible. This is her tragedy, and Miss Ziegler plays it with depth and honesty, at once childish and angry, and at other times charming and witty.
Miss Ziegler’s performance is equally challenged by the cool, yet vulnerable performance of Natalie Fields, who plays Stella. Fields gives Stella a strength and sweetness that covers a deeper unspoken need.
Brandon Cox plays Stanley Kowalski. He has an easy charm that would win over a woman like Stella. There are moments between Stanley and Stella that are really lovely and unnerving at the same time. When Stanley calls desperately for Stella after he has hit her, she runs to him and jumps into his arms and you feel their need for one another. This is both touching and upsetting.
Stanley is a violent person, yet Stella loves him. In Cox’s portrayal, it was hard for me to understand why. If Cox could have shown more of Stanley’s vulnerabilities and insecurities, his comfort of Stella at the end of the play and his actions toward Blanche would have landed more powerfully.
Overall, this production is very moving. It’s a bit messy. The set of course is moody and dark, with single light bulbs hanging down in the kitchen and bedroom. The dim lighting and sound of old jazz-playing trumpets creates that bluesy New Orleans atmosphere. There is a lot of furniture and a kitchen door that obstructs some of the scenes. For me, though, the measure of success for a play is whether the audience can connect with the characters, feel for them and be moved. This doesn’t always happen when I watch plays, even great plays like A Streetcar Named Desire, but I felt such deep pity for the characters, especially for Blanche; I saw parts of myself in her, parts of people whom I have met. Maybe in times of trouble like these, times of insecurity and doubt, we can relate just a little bit more to these characters whose lives are so filled with uncertainty.
A Streetcar Named Desire
June 7-9, 11, 14-16: 8 p.m.
June 17: 2 p.m.
Louisville Repertory Company
The MeX Theatre, The Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202