In an age where masculinity is under attack from all angles, sometimes it’s refreshing to see Stanley Kowalski (Jared Wigdor ’11) get rowdy and turn over his chair at the dinner table. And just when you think that raw animalism wins the day, it’s even more refreshing to watch Stanley stand outside the window and holler at the top of his lungs for “STELLA!” But it’s Blanche DuBois’s (Isabel Siragusa ’11) delicate Southern charm — her defining quality and the source of her undoing — that satisfies above all else.
“A Streetcar Named Desire,” Siragusa’s senior project, may be histrionic at times, but its seduction and bestiality ultimately save the play from devolving like DuBois’s psyche.
Tennessee Williams’ American classic tells the story of Blanche DuBois, a schoolteacher evicted from her family plantation, who arrives at her sister Stella’s (Alexis Cruzzavala ’13) derelict haunt in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The encounter between Blanche and Stanley — bowling enthusiast, heavy drinker and Stella’s husband — establishes the flirty tension between feminine civility and unbridled manliness in the story. While the play is by no means a cliché of opposites attracting, the temptress Blanche and gruff Stanley are both aware of the uneasy yet mutual lure that exists between them.
When Stanley learns Blanche is no longer in possession of the family plantation — a property he one day hoped to inherit — his temper begins to take over the play, a consequence of both the script and Wigdor’s aggressive performance.
Fueled by a steady stream of alcohol and the support of his ruffian cohorts, Stanley becomes a loose cannon, screaming more lines than he speaks, it seems. He barges into the bedroom, defenestrates the radio and slaps Stella with all of his pent-up manly might. This, of course, sets the stage for the immortal “Hey Stellllllaaaaa!” call, and her loyal return. The moment of the embrace, however, leaves something to be desired. Disappointingly, the scene more closely resembles something you’d see at the arrival gates of an airport than the reluctant forgiveness of a subjugated-but-desperate wife to her misogynistic husband. But this relationship takes a backseat to Blanche’s romance.
In a novel interpretation, director Timmia Hearn Feldman ’12 created a new character — the ghost of Blanche’s dead husband (Kyle Clark ’13) — to help center the action on Blanche’s romance with Mitch (Jamie Biondi ’12) and, in turn, Siragusa herself. The late husband doubles as the play’s accompanist, drifting from the piano bench to the stage, and casting a pall over Blanche’s present relationship.
While this invocation of the Shakespearean ghost may be abstract (and it’s difficult to stomach tampering with a classic) the choice allows the audience into the tormented mind of the disgraced Southern belle.
Besides, by the opening of the second act, viewers will welcome scenes with the genteel Blanche. The other characters devolve into caricatures, relying on the volume of their voices to make up for a lack of genuine emotion. But even the gentle and seemingly sweet romance between Mitch and Blanche seems artificial. Their lack of chemistry is austere and awkward; Mitch’s yielding demeanor is unconvincing. Perhaps their relationship suffers from the obstacle of the boy ghost, who won’t leave the two alone.
Either way, the shift of spotlight from Stanley/Blanche to Mitch/Blanche is something of a bastardization. While it’s unfair to hold their chemistry up to that Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in the film version of the play, the character of Mitch is simply too one-dimensional to receive so much attention.
Ultimately, the risky adaptation provides a spotlight for the talented Siragusa. But the downplay of the other characters’ emotional complexity doesn’t give credence to Williams’s classic.