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Rebekah Baker stars as Blanche DuBois and Ben Williamson plays Harold "Mitch" Mitchell in the Theatre Department's production of A Streetcar Named Desire. The play runs from Oct. 15-24 at the Anderson Center Chamber Hall.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
A desire to bring ‘Streetcar’ to the stage
October 12, 2010Tweet
The cast and director of A Streetcar Named Desire were interested in presenting a version of the Tennessee Williams classic play long before University theater-goers made it an “audience choice” for the 2010-11 season.
“My parents were in the audience for another production when we were taking a poll and I said to my mom, ‘Vote for Streetcar. Vote for Streetcar,” said Wendy Abels, who portrays Stella Kowalski.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play comes to the Anderson Center Chamber Hall stage at 8 p.m. Oct. 15-16 and Oct. 22-23 and 2 p.m. Oct. 17 and Oct. 24. Tickets are $14, general admission; $12, faculty/staff/seniors; and $8, students. Call 777-ARTS for tickets.
Director Anne Brady also was excited to bring Williams back to Binghamton. She directed the Southern playwright’s The Glass Menagerie on campus a decade ago.
“I love Tennessee Williams,” Brady said. “I love the way he uses language. I love that his characters are multi-dimensional, filled with conflict and that the world is one of violence, passion and love. They are people trying to understand each other who are also being misunderstood.”
In Streetcar, those people are Stanley and Stella Kowalski and Stella’s sister, Blanche DuBois. Two cultures collide when Blanche, accustomed to the Old South, arrives at the working-class New Orleans doorstep of her sister and brother-in-law. Blanche’s intrusion into a violent and sensual marriage leads to confrontations that will not only affect the Kowalskis and Blanche, but Blanche’s suitor Mitch, as well.
Streetcar became a Broadway hit in late 1947 and featured Marlon Brando as Stanley, Kim Hunter as Stella, Karl Malden as Mitch and Jessica Tandy as Stella. The 1951 film version earned Academy Awards for Hunter, Malden and Vivien Leigh (as Stella) and became a classic itself.
The actors in the Theatre Department’s production are well aware of the stature of Streetcar’s characters and the challenges that come with playing them.
“It’s definitely daunting because it’s so iconic and everybody knows and loves it,” said Abels, a senior. “For me, it’s important not to see other versions or watch the movie. I’ve tried to bring as much of myself into it as I could and ask myself, ‘What would I do if …’ and embrace the circumstances in New Orleans and the desire and passion that’s so important to the play.”
R.J. McGhee’s perception of Stanley has changed since he gained the role and began developing the character.
“There are some preconceived notions you have about the show before you even go into it,” said McGhee, a senior. “With Stanley, I thought, ‘OK, he’s an aggressive, dominant character who is going to roll over everybody.’ But after doing the role, I’ve found it’s not about dominance – it’s about need and what he needs from Stella and his love for everyone in the show. That’s very different from what I had known before I read (the play).”
Sixty-three years after it was written, Streetcar continues to resonate with theater fans. Numerous adaptations have been made over the years and the play continues to attract the world’s best actors. In 2009, Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett starred as Blanche in a Sydney Theatre Company production.
Brady believes that the story’s “human” qualities – struggles for love, power, possession, safety and most importantly, survival – have helped Streetcar stand the test of time.
“That struggle for survival present throughout the play is something we go through all the time,” she said. “We’re always struggling: How are we going to make our next meal in this economy? We’re struggling for a connection. It’s a violent world for (the characters) because they are struggling to make a connection. Sometimes they have to make a connection through fighting for what they want, whether it’s physical fighting, verbal fighting or passionate love-making. They are desperate to make a connection.
“And many of us feel like an outsider. Tennessee Williams felt like an outsider and everyone in the play feels like an outsider. So there is a struggle in that way. … What each of the characters do to survive is very important.”
The production of Streetcar will mark the first audience “talkback” for the Theatre Department. After the Oct. 17 matinee performance, the audience will be able to ask questions, offer opinions and discuss the play with the cast, crew and Brady.
Joseph Church, associate professor of English, also will take part in the talkback as a guest scholar. Church is teaching a literature course that features Streetcar. Theater-goers who attended Streetcar on a different night will still be able to take part in the talkback.
“It’s our chance to engage with the audience in a dialogue,” Brady said. “We don’t get the chance very often: The show is over, the lights go out and the actors and audience go home. This time, we can talk with each other.”