Barrington Stage Company’s current production of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” is both strong and flawed at its core. Because this beautiful, shattering drama, arguably Williams’ most significant, is so well-known, one is conditioned to expect certain thematic elements to be intact. If they are not, one hardly notices — and that is a good thing for this production.
You know the story. Stanley Kowalski (Christopher Innvar) and his wife Stella (Kim Stauffer) live in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Their life (mainly their sex life) is disrupted when Stella’s sister, Blanche Dubois (Marin Mazzie), comes to live with them. Stanley is an ignorant thug who resents Blanche’s intrusion.
Stella and Blanche have led refined lives of privilege and grace at their plantation, Belle Reve. While Stella has come to terms with, and even embraces, her gritty life, Blanche longs for the music and magic of her youth. Stanley resents Blanche even more when he learns that she has allowed Belle Reve to be lost to foreclosure.
‘A Streetcar Named Desire’
WHERE: Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass.
WHEN: Through Aug. 29
HOW MUCH: $56-$36
MORE INFO: (413) 236-8888 or www.barringtonstageco.org
His resentment and hatred are manifested in brutal acts against his sister-in-law, including rape. In the end, Blanche’s sanity is destroyed.
All three characters have become icons, and the play has come to symbolize Williams’ most enduring theme: the bestial nature of society overwhelming its most idealistic and most nonconforming individuals — mostly women.
At the play’s core is the gentle Blanche, who is filled with dreams of peace and plenty, who wishes nothing more in her world than a sweet touch, a kind gesture, and, in her own words, “art . . . and poetry and music.”
Barrington’s Blanche, as played by Mazzie, is a full-figured, full-throated character that does not flutter into Elysian Fields but invades it. She seems a match for any man, including her brother-in-law. Her “. . . don’t hang back with the brutes” speech is not a wound but an oration that she delivers, for the most part, to the audience and not to her sister Stella.
Stanley’s brutality toward her, then, stems not only from his own loathsome nature but from a base fear men endure of being emasculated by a strong woman. That is this production’s fundamental flaw — and one, I am certain, the playwright did not intend.
Innvar, as Stanley, is all that he needs to be: coarse, vulgar and ultimately devastatingly destructive. His presence, as it must, towers over the entire production. Stauffer plays Stella as the mentally sturdier of the two sisters, buffering Stanley’s bitterness when she can.
As mentioned, the production is strong, incorporating the talent of Chavez Ravine and Thom Rivera as the neighborhood blues singer and musician, respectively.
The set by Brian Prather is beautifully seedy with a wrought-iron balcony, shutters, tall windows and street lamps, though Elysian Fields, a slum, seemed a bit too pristine to me.