A Streetcar Named Desire

Thu 8th – Sat 10th November 2012

reviews

Patty McCabe

at 13:14 on 10th Nov 2012

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Once a play has been immortalised in film, it is always risky to attempt to place it back on stage. There is always a danger that such a production will collapse into a parody of the film, failing to accept both the limitations and possibilities of a stage set. Thrust Stage’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire was no such performance.

Very few plays consume the stage like A Streetcar Named Desire and Matt Dann’s set choice reflects this perfectly. Only lighting and a set of stairs are used to suggest the difference between the outside world and the Kowalski’s two roomed apartment. There is no sanctuary from the outside world available to the characters within the domestic setting – Blanche Dubois (Grace Cheatle) is as unable to escape her life in Laurel as she is the vendors and violence of Elysian Fields. A review of a performance of Streetcar that I saw a few years back suggested that everything in the play hangs on the use of lighting. Perhaps this is a going a little far but Dan Gosselin’s technical vision certainly captured the both intensity and brutality of the play. When Blanche is explaining the suicide of her young husband to Mitch, the use of a single dim candle-light echoes her line ‘never for one moment since has there been any light that’s stronger than this – kitchen – candle’ beautifully. The use of the red light in penultimate scene draws the audience into the violence. Appearing sporadically throughout the performance, the red light eventually consumes the stage set, serving up the eruption of Stanley’s animal brutality with a terrifying ferocity.

Grace Cheatle’s Blanche is little short of perfect. Her character deteriorates beautifully and convincingly without dwindling into parody. One watches as what appears as flirtatiousness and whimsy turns into complete fragility and hysteria, revealing her shattered sense of identity. As Cheatle utters Blanche’s famous last line, ‘I have always depended on the kindness of strangers’, the audience is convinced that little more than a broken women is being escorted off stage. Michael Forde should be congratulated on not offering a caricature of Brando’s portrayal of Stanley. His posture captured Stanley’s brutishness; swinging, ape-like arms accompanied by a primitive swagger and craned neck. One criticism, however, is that he fails to give off that aura of raw sexual power. Williams’ stage directions state that the ‘centre of his life has been pleasure with women’ and it is that fails to come across. It affects his relationship with Stella (Lucie Crawford), who appears more doting than overcome by what should be Stanley’s sexual power. In all other aspects, the cast were superb with exceptionally strong performances from Mike Clarke (Mitch) and Steffi Walker (Eunice) who did not fade into the background against the performances of Cheatle, Forde and Crawford.

When watching a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the most important aspects I look for is the character’s total immersion in Williams’ language, a language described by Arthur Miller as ‘flowing from the soul’. A play that suffers to portray such brutality, breakdown and pain not only requires the audience, but the actors themselves, to believe in the destruction and deterioration of their own characters. Only on stage could a claustrophobic, two-roomed New Orleans apartment even dream of containing the fragility of Blanche and the animalistic savagery of Stanley. Even the possibilities of the theatre cannot allow these two characters to exist along side each other for long and Stanley’s rape and subsequent destruction of Blanche remains a damning and relevant statement of the hypocrisy, fragility and primitive nature of the human condition. Thrust Stage’s productions captured all of this.

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