Striking “Streetcar” at Village Playhouse
“I DON’T WANT REALISM. I want magic!” says Blanche in a line that captures the essence of all the characters in Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer-Prize winning play, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” now at the Village Playhouse.
Well, what they want is exactly what none of them get in this epitome of Williams’ taut psychological portrayals, particularly of women who are tormented by the conflict between their vulnerable selves, their padded dreams, and the harsh world in which they find themselves.
Blanche, played by actor-director Keely Enright, is certainly the more extreme case and character, while sister Stella, played by the ever-resourceful Katie Huard, is not far behind in her quietly drawn-out disillusionment—despite proclaiming that she is “not in anything I want to get out of.”
Curiously, the main character, Blanche, is more realistic about her own situation even though she is tragically flawed, extremely overwrought, and sinking fast in a sea of multiple personalities. Regardless, she somehow keeps floating back to the surface by means of her strangely lucid rational and an indefatigable determination that her fairytale can still come true.
The more you try to sort out the complexities of these characters, the more complexity you see, and the more you wonder about Tennessee Williams. The three main characters—Blanche, Stella, and Stanley—brought to mind the three main characters (also two women and a man) in Williams’ other acclaimed play, “The Glass Menagerie” (see our review back in March), in which three family members traverse their respective regrets, fears, false hopes, and short-lived attempts at self-reflection—all recurring themes in Williams’ life and writings.
The male characters in this case—Stella’s husband, Stanley (played to bestial perfection by Paul Rolfes) and Blanche’s suitor, Mitch (played with balanced nuance by Josh Whilhoit)—serve as the perfect catalysts for drawing out all of Blanche’s charm, savvy, flirtatiousness, self-doubt, self-pity, seductiveness, and, above all, naivety. Without these men and their contrasting personalities (and desires), we could not witness the full display of Blanche’s pitiable mentality, nor see it drawn to its inevitable conclusion as this “streetcar” rumbles down its predestined track.
In this sense (as Keely pointed out when I spoke to her the next day), the character of Stanley is not a ‘bad’ guy despite his violent temper, monstrous verbal attacks, and physical abuse. He is just another character who cannot help but react according to his beliefs and sense of identity, doing what he thinks is right even if it’s not—even when he smacks his pregnant wife in the face; even when his fully fueled rage and sexual attraction culminate in the ultimate horrific act.
At the same time, Blanche sees it coming and unwittingly baits destiny, as she cannot help but do. And what makes her so fascinating as a character is how she seems to know this, for example when Tennessee Williams has her say: “The minute I laid eyes on that man I knew he would be my executioner, that he would destroy me unless…”
As Keely also mentioned, she and Paul and the other actors all make character choices that define their roles the way they understand them, not necessarily the way you may have seen them depicted in film.
But that’s what makes this production so compelling. For me, it opened new insight into the play and playwright. It also made me think twice and three times about shouting at my daughter when I feel she has drawn me over the line of tolerance. Among other things, this play makes you realize how the psychological force of verbal abuse is barely removed from its physical brother.
Sometimes it takes seeing a powerful play to shine light on things you don’t fully see or acknowledge in yourself and others. It’s a vital—perhaps the most vital—part of the beauty, power, and effect of live drama. There’s nothing like it and I’m even more convinced this is why it exists in the first place, and why—like all the arts—it exerts such a profound influence over us.
That little brick space in Mount Pleasant they call the Village Playhouse: get yourself there. Let yourself be transported, transfixed, and transformed. (Oh, and get there early so you have time to fully appreciate the distinctive New Orleans French-Quarter set that Keely and her husband and co-founder, David Reinwald, have put together—again.)
No wonder this play won the Pulitzer.
Learn more at the Village Playhouse.