Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar makes a stop at Venice Little Theatre.
By Kay Kipling
The challenges of staging Tennessee Williams’ American classic A Streetcar Named Desire are obvious ones; looming at the forefront of them is always the shadow of Marlon Brando, who made the role of Stanley Kowalski unforgettable both on Broadway and on film. Only a handful of actors could ever hope to step out of that shadow, and you don’t expect to find any of them working in community theater. And not only Stanley but Blanche DuBois and sister Stella have been so etched in our consciousness that it’s hard to watch a production of Streetcar without hearing lots of echoes.
All that said, Streetcar is a living piece, and it should be performed, not enshrined. If Venice Little Theatre’s current production does not shatter the audience with its intensity, it does offer some moving and occasionally lyrical moments.
The play begins with troubled ex-schoolteacher Blanche (Eve Caballero) stepping off that streetcar into New Orleans’ French Quarter for an extended visit with Stella (Heather O’Dea) and brother-in-law Stanley (Douglas Landin). Blanche, we know, has been through a lot already, and she’s worried about how Stanley will take to her. “I’m sure you and Stanley will get along just fine,” assures Stella, in what may be one of the most ironic lines of dialogue ever uttered on an American stage.
Of course they don’t get along fine, and we witness Blanche’s gradual disintegration, completed by Stanley’s rape of her when she’s at her most vulnerable. Along the way we also witness some good work by Caballero, who is best when being flirtatious with either Stanley or the sweet-natured Mitch (William Czarniak), her last hope for marriage to a good man; and when feverishly trying to “save” an unwilling Stella from her marriage to an abusive man. She’s good when telling the story of her early marriage, too; but we never really get the sense of the past being onstage with the present here. Caballero’s Blanche is desperate, certainly, but neither she nor the production is as haunted as they should be.
Czarniak is suitably likable and hungry for love as Mitch; O’Dea, who seems young for her role, tends to rush her lines (some other actors here do, too); and Lundin, while not conveying that animal heat so essential to Stanley, is convincing enough as a working-class guy with a temper who wants to be the king of his home (he’s not to blame for not being Brando). Steve Mitchell’s set, complete with ceiling fans and latticed wooden blinds, actually feels roomy, which is pleasant to look at but perhaps less claustrophobic than the play requires. And Nicholas Hartman’s costume designs for Blanche nicely match her romantic, girlish side.
A Streetcar Named Desire runs through Oct. 21; call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.