Impressive direction marks HCC's staging of `Streetcar'

Review

Howard Live

Arts and entertainment in Howard County

April 22, 2005|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski are two of the 20th century's most memorable stage characters.

Blanche is a Southern belle with honeyed speech and a flirtatious manner. Cultivated and hypersensitive, she has been badly damaged by a series of misfortunes. She copes by drinking and pretending that her life is one long romantic tale.

Stanley is a working-class lout of meager education, an animal without higher feelings. His outlook is bounded by his job, bowling, poker, eating, sleeping and sex with his wife.

Arrogant and touchy, he demands his own way and turns violent when he is opposed.

These two should never get within a mile of each other, but playwright Tennessee Williams puts them in the same two-room apartment. The result is A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the landmarks of American theater.

A fine production

A fine production of the drama, impressively directed by Susan G. Kramer for the Student-Alumni Arts Program, can be seen at Howard Community College through May 1.

Blanche has left the family home in Mississippi and descends on her sister, Stella, in a poor neighborhood in New Orleans. The family property is gone, consumed by expenses arising from the illness and death of the sisters' parents and other family members.

Blanche and Stella's husband, Stanley, are at odds with each other from the beginning. Neither has the ability to accommodate the other, yet there is a subtle sexual attraction between them.

Caught in the middle

The pregnant Stella is caught in the middle. She tries to rein in Blanche's condescending manner and slurs on Stanley's background and behavior, and she begs Stanley to be more pleasant to Blanche. In the hope of improving the household environment she impulsively breaks up Stanley's poker party. Enraged by this, Stanley assaults her.

Stella runs away and takes refuge with a neighbor. Now the one weak spot in Stanley's brutal character is revealed: He is lost and frightened without his wife and utters his famous anguished shout of "Stella!"

Blanche, a compulsive mischief maker, tries to turn Stella against Stanley, but Stella is earthy and physical, with none of Blanche's exaggerated sensitivity. She and Stanley have a satisfying sexual relationship. They both feel Blanche is disrupting their life together.

When Stella goes to the hospital to have her baby, Blanche and Stanley find themselves alone in the apartment and the situation comes to a violent climax.

Heading a good cast, Ashanti Cooper gives Blanche the proper sweet-talking grande dame manner. Some contrasting touches - an occasional waspishness, a hint of sinuous sexuality - would have added depth to the character.

As Stanley, Joey Amaral turns in a strong performance. His delivery, facial expressions and physical movements are on target. A good percentage of his dialogue, unfortunately, is incomprehensible. Stanley traditionally slurs his speech - Marlon Brando created the role on Broadway and played in the film version - but the audience wants to know what he is saying.

Janelle Cree gives a muted but convincing performance as Stella. Kevin Anthony Howard does a nice job as Mitch, the most decent of Stanley's poker-playing buddies, whose budding romantic interest in Blanche is cruelly dashed.

Cast members

Also in the cast are Safire Windley as Eunice Hubble, the Kowalskis' landlady and neighbor; Kyle Caldwell and Dylan Brace-Sloss as Steve and Pablo, buddies of Stanley; and Taylor Kasky, Jamie C. Driskill, Candace Cooper, Brett Gailey and Robert Scott Hitcho in supporting roles.

Damon Pelletier's realistic set has a dingy kitchen with a screen door and a neon sign flashing outside the window, a living room with nondescript furniture, a bedroom and a patio. The effect is as sordid as Tennessee Williams could have asked for.

Effective lighting

Dustin Dunsmore's elaborate and effective lighting follows the action from one area to another, reflecting the story's every mood. Sound designer Sarah Washburn provides appropriate music before the show (big-band jazz), between the scenes and, subtly, during high points of the action.

Direction, production and acting combine to make this production of Streetcar a memorable one.

A Student-Alumni Arts production of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" is being presented in Theatre Outback at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through May 1. Tickets: 410-772-4900, ext. 1, or at the box office in Building A.

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