THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
Pit & Balcony Launches 92nd Season with Tennessee Williams Classic & Legendary Tale of Decadence, Delusion, and Desperation
31st August, 2023 0
A Streetcar Named Desire is without doubt one of the most critically acclaimed plays of the 20th Century and to this day ranks as the most performed works of the gifted & groundbreaking playwright, Tennessee Williams, which was first performed on Broadway in 1947 and later in 1951 became a ground-breaking film that ignited the career of then unknown Marlon Brando.
Now to kick off their 92nd Season, Pit & Balcony Community Theatre will be presenting their own adaptation of this exquisitely powerful theatrical classic in a series of performances that will run from September 15-17th & 22-24th, rendering this poignant portrait into the experiences of Blanche DuBois - a former Southern belle who after encountering a litany of deep personal losses, leaves her once-prosperous position as a teacher in order to move into a shabby apartment in New Orleans, which is rented by her younger sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley.
As with a majority of Williams’ work, his narratives cut deep into the arteries of conflicting human emotions; and interestingly enough, Blanche happens to arrive at Stella’s apartment riding in a streetcar of the old ‘Desire Streetcar Line’, which actually ran only a half-block away from an apartment on Toulouse Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter that Williams was living in when he wrote ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’
The play essentially chronicles a woman whose life has been undermined by her romantic illusions, which lead her to reject the realities of life with which she is faced and constantly ignores. This becomes a condition she can no longer ignore when confronted with the shabbiness of her sister's two-room flat. She finds Stanley loud and rough, eventually referring to him as "common". Stanley, in return, is suspicious of Blanche, does not care for her manners and resents her presence which is already interfering with his regimented but hedonistic lifestyle.
For Director David Ryan, who last year directed P&B’s production of The Lightning Thief, several factors compelled him to assume the directorial reins of this intensely emotional and challenging production. “I actually have been in this show twice, first as a teenager I played the role of the Doctor in an adult production in Tawas,” he explains. “And then in my freshman year of college I performed the role of Mitch in SVSU’s production, so through performing in this play and watching the movie, it’s something that has had a profound influence on me as a theatrical artist.”
When asked what he feels most distinguishes this timeless classic, Ryan points to how Williams was the right man in the right place at the right time to write a play like Streetcar.
“It’s straddling the antique south with modern America, plus it deals with gender roles and sexuality and all these racy topics that America was just starting to get ready to talk about, but were swept under the carpet with the Hays code and all of that.” (Editor’s Note: The Hays Code was a self-imposed industry set of guidelines for all the motion pictures that were released between 1934 and 1968).
Ryan says the important elements he hopes to focus upon and elicit as a director are the power dynamics between Blanche & Stanley. “In order to understand their dynamics, it’s important to focus on the familial relationship between Stella and Blanche, plus we need to focus on the fact that without a man to support her, Blanche will be ruined. We also need to focus on the idea of how all these things Blanche has done to fix herself - the self-medication and self-harm through sex she doesn’t really want to do - all these factors lead to her demise.”
“I find it interesting that Stella has this fantasy world she constructed, but internally focuses on her dreams,” continues Ryan, “so she’s like a realization of Walt Whitman and talks about being an English teacher trying to teach kids Hawthorne, Whitman, and Poe. Whitman famously said: “So if I contradict myself, I contradict myself, I contain multitudes. And Blanche certainly contains multitudes.”
With a cast consisting of Scarlett Cunningham in the lead role of Blanche DuBois, Matt Kehoe as Stanley Kowalski, Megan Douglass as Stella Kowalski, and Greg Allison as Mitch, the production is rounded out by the talents of actors Leslie Larkins, Matt Turner, Richard Gomez, Briana Boyles, Sandra Cline, and Marcelina Fulgncio.
When asked about the various gifts each pivotal actor brings to their roles, Ryan is enthusiastic. “Scarlett is a relative newcomer and this is her first real performance in a starring role,” he explains. “She has a background in psychology and had a great audition and it’s exciting to work with her. Before this she was in a production of No Exit at the Historic Masonic Temple, and before that she played Janet in a production of Rocky Horror Picture Show. In the role of Stanley we have Matt Kehoe, who brings a real Northern sensibility to Stanley. Brando gave him a New York accent, Matt’s Stanley is more Chicago - a more blended Midwestern Polish accent.”
When asked about the biggest challenge involved with bringing Streetcar to the stage, Ryan references the cultural changes enacted by time & place. “Some things were okay to say back in the 1940s that are not okay to say now, so reckoning with the fact characters in this play are racist and sexist and don’t do things the way a modern person would is one of the challenges.”
“Another question that’s challenging to explore is why does Stella stay with Stanley?,” he continues. “In the movie and a couple community theatre productions, Stella leaves Stanley and at the end takes the baby with her; but in the original production on Broadway the baby & Stella stay with Stanley, which opens the question of why would a woman like Stella stay with a man as abusive as Stanley? But we need to remember it was different for women back then. They couldn’t get a credit card of have property that wasn’t in their husband’s name, unless she was a widow. So if she left Stanley she would have to go to a home for unwed mothers.”
“This is why we are not changing a thing from the original production,” concludes Ryan. “We are presenting this as written and as sort of a time capsule and putting warnings in the program and pre-show announcements that there is going to be coarse adult things happening on the stage.”
While a recent Broadway production of Streetcar modernized it and featured actress Gillian Anderson in the role of Blanche while also using Techno Music in the score, Ryan says he is setting the play in 1947 New Orleans and will also have all the technical elements of the show inspired by Death.
“In the beginning of the show, Blanche says ‘They told me to take a streetcar named desire, transfer to one called cemetery, and get off at Elysian Fields, which was representative of the Greek Afterlife, so I kind of imagine Blanche as being dead throughout the entire timeframe,” explains Ryan.
“The set will be inspired by a cemetery with the windows looking like gravestones and telephone poles in the background like crosses; and the costumes will look a little bit decayed. There’s supposed to be some distress with the clothes, as it’s summer in New Orleans when you sweat profusely and Blanche’s clothes may have a spot of mold or a place the moths have gotten to, while viewers may also see her makeup get a little paler and paler as the show goes on.”
With such a competent and astutely focused director at the helm focused so meticulously upon details such as these, and a stellar cast on-board for this excursion into the heart of the American experience, audiences should prepare themselves for an exceptional series of powerful performances.
Pit & Balcony’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams will run from September 15-17 and 22-24, with performances at 7:30 PM and Sunday matinees at 3:00 PM. Tickets are only $20.00 and available at the Pit & Balcony Box Office or by visiting www.pitandbalconytheatre.com
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)