The Yale School of Drama’s presentation of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” succeeds in presenting a powerful play headlined by Bridget Flanery, who plays a brilliant Blanche DuBois. The fantastic sets, sound effects, and deft direction by Trip Cullman all complement Flanery’s performance perfectly. The only problem is the play’s long setup, which results in a three-and-a-half hour running time.
The production excels at handling the violence and sexual tension that affects the actions of the characters. Flanery manages to balance the two competing aspects of DuBois’s personality–her desire, fueled by loneliness following her husband’s suicide, to conquer younger men, coupled with her hope of maintaining her southern gentility. The portrayal of Blanche is grating, as she should be, yet still succeeds in eliciting the audience’s sympathy. William Theodore Thompson, who plays Stanley Kowalski, does well in his role as a crude working man with a serious sexual presence, emphasized by his often-shirtless chest. Bess Wohl, as Stella Kowalski, will strongly remind Friday night TV viewers of Robby’s girlfriend Tina (Maria Pitillo) on “Providence.”
The story is a classic tale of deception. Blanche arrives at her sister’s house after “losing” the family’s Mississippi mansion home, ostensibly on vacation from her teaching duties. Immediately critical of her sister Stella’s new life with Stanley, who does not readily fit the mold of a Southern gentleman, Blanche acts like an neurotic empress. She drinks far too much liquor and tries to seduce every man she sees. Stanley is suspicious of Blanche and suspects some sort of foul play in the loss of the mansion.
Meanwhile, Stella tries to appease her hard-to-please sister but is forced to acknowledge that she has changed and is no longer the demanding but charming sister that she once knew. The secret of how Blanche has been spending her time since Stella left Belle Rive is slowly revealed as Blanche’s stories become more implausible.
The atmosphere of a run-down city apartment is replicated realistically, with flashing lights and streetcar noises used to great effect during important moments in the plot; it breaks up longer dialogues and reminds the audience of “Desire” and the importance of setting. Cigarettes, which are lit so frequently that those close to the stage feel the smoke in their eyes, evoke the 1950s feel of the movie version of the play.
The meat hanging from the ceiling adds an interesting touch, a touch open to interpretation. Is it meant to evoke a working-man atmosphere reminiscent of the Chicago meat-packing industries? Or is it symbolic of how humans are nothing more than slabs of meat?
Blanche says in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “I don’t want realism. I want magic.” The Yale School of Drama manages to do what she cannot even hope to: reveal the sometimes disturbing realities of life, while still capturing the magic of living.