ALBANY -- “Site-specific” theater is on display once again at Albany Distilling Company: NorthEast Ensemble’s production of Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Since alcohol often fuels the characters’ misbehaviors in this classic, and you can imbibe, too, before the show or during the two intermissions, the site makes sense. More significantly, however, the establishment’s lower courtyard—exposed brick rear wall over layers of stone/shale, a plain wooden balcony, windows, and a wooden staircase—is the perfect backdrop for this hellish tale of desire, death, loss, and revenge. Additionally, Saturday afternoon’s heat evoked New Orleans, the play’s setting, and the ambient noises of birds, passing cars, and neighbors’ voices added a realistic touch.
This production is worth your while if only--but, naturally, not only—because of the stunning performance of Janet Hurley Kimklicko as Blanche DuBois (a woman hardly out of the woods, actually). More in a moment.
Under Dr. Krysta Dennis’s astute direction and dressed in Bonnie Fitzgerald’s period perfect costumes, the cast creates the story of sisters Blanche and Stella (Erin Ouellette), told with Williams’s characteristic dark humor and poetic language.
It’s immediately evident that visitor Blanche doesn’t fit this gritty environment that Stella has happily chosen, and soon Stanley (James A. Wild), Stella’s rough-and-tumble Polish husband, becomes Blanche’s adversary, with issues of class becoming the currency of many conversations.
To her dismay Stella continues to learn of the personal disasters that have occurred in the sisters’ hometown, Laurel, Mississippi; evidently, Blanche has burned bridges and seems incapable of building new ones.
The play ends with unspeakable violence, both physical and emotional.
I was touched often, but to the point of tears by a brief encounter in Act II between Blanche and a newspaper boy (a sweet Michael Glantzis) and a longer one between Blanche and her sometime beau, Mitch (Tony Pallone), so devastating is one of the play’s chief themes: the passage of time.
Catherine Seeley as neighbor Eunice is warm, wise, and steadfast. Pallone is amusing in Mitch’s earnest courtship of the strange but elegant Blanche. Later, however, besotted by drink instead of love, he’s insulting and cruel, and Pallone credibly captures the pathos of Mitch’s situation.
Ouellette conveys Stella’s determination to be supportive of her husband and her sister, which is nigh on impossible: Ouellette’s performance is heartbreaking.
What to make of Stanley? Lunkish. Self-absorbed. Brutal--absolutely. Yet when he challenges Blanche for lying and putting on airs, he’s somewhat sympathetic. Over three acts, Wild reveals all, sometimes frighteningly.
How difficult it must be for an actress to play Blanche because what we see in Blanche’s very first moments is the whole theme on which the character’s numerous variations are played. But what subtle variations Kimlicko conjures up, with a stricken look, a fluttering of hands, the throwing back of her shoulders, a darting head bob, a musical line reading. Mesmerizing!
If you have not seen this play before, sit up front where there’s no compromise to the actors’ conversational volume and the blocking (a couple of columns get in the way). If you are familiar with the script, sit anywhere and enjoy the immersion in the whole experience.
WHERE: NorthEast Theatre Ensemble, Albany Distilling Company, 75 Livingston Ave., Albany
WHEN: Saturdays/Sundays at 2 p.m. and Mondays at 7 p.m., through July 8
HOW MUCH: $20, adult; $12, students and seniors
MORE INFO: 518-526-9170, or northeastensemble.org