An atmospheric 'Streetcar'

Masqueraders update play to New Orleans at the time of Katrina

November 17, 2006|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

With echoes of last years Hurricane Katrina, the Naval Academy Masqueraders bring to the stage a steamy, often soggy, highly atmospheric rendition of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Pre-eminent 20th-century American playwright Tennessee Williams created iconic characters in his 1947 play that for many of us were defined four years later in the movie by Marlon Brando and Vivian Leigh.

In the Masqueraders' production, Stanley Kowalski, Blanche DuBois and Stella, his wife and her sister, are redefined in a contemporary New Orleans created at Mahan Hall at the Naval Academy.

Christy Stanlake, director of the Masqueraders, has joined forces for the fourth season with set designer Richard Montgomery, whose credits include Old Vic productions and a recent Helen Hayes Award nomination for set design in last seasons The Dazzle at Rep Stage.

This team has reached new artistic heights, weaving elements of water imagery and evidence of the homes decay within its charming blend of French and Gulf region architecture.

Outside is a Spanish-moss covered bottle tree. The Elysian Fields residence features a winding staircase, nostalgic screen door and windows filled with changing views all designed by Montgomery and built by a large student crew.

Hurricane Katrina is evident in the rain beating against the window and in Blanches ritualistic bathing as if to cleanse away her sins.

The famously humid New Orleans air is pierced by the sound of contemporary zydeco and jazz, with interludes marked by live saxophone playing by actor Bill Parks.

Blanche, a former Southern belle, is a recently fired pedophile high school teacher who has lost the family home and comes to live with her sister, Stella, and Stanley, an Army veteran with whom Blanche soon starts bickering. Swaggering, pragmatic Stanley has little tolerance of Blanches idealized concept of reality. Meanwhile, Stanleys friend, Mitch, is attracted to Blanche and briefly seems to offer her a way out of her desperate situation.

The Masqueraders' production boasts in addition to the highly atmospheric set, on-stage often steamy sexual tension that had to be groundbreaking in the plays 1947 debut.

David Smestuen depicts a nontraditional Stanley. He is not brutishly animalistic or devoid of sensitivity, but seems intelligent and even fun. He is openly sexual, with a profound dependency on Stella. Smestuen used precise diction and an impressive ability to project so that nearly every word was clear to the audience on opening night Friday.

Julie Barca creates a sympathetic, often tormented Stella who administers to the needs of her husband and sister. Like Smestuens Stanley, Barca spoke her lines clearly and audibly most of the time.

Such audibility was not always evident in Joy Deweys Blanche, who has much more dialogue in this demanding role. On opening night, Dewey was hard to understand, especially when delivering her lines at far stage left with her head turned away from the audience. Dewey's Blanche might have purposely lacked fragility and vulnerability, seeming more interested in her ability to convey a more contemporary fierceness than previously seen.

As Mitch, Sean Bingham conveys compassion and decency to counteract Stanleys growing brutishness as he increasingly spars with Blanche. Aby Foster is pleasant, strong and full of interesting contrasts as upstairs landlady Eunice.

Despite its flaws, the Masqueraders Streetcar elevates the Naval Academys reputation for delivering exciting theater and is a worthy 2006 entry into the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

Performances continue at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 for the general public with rates of $7 for groups of seven or more.

For information and to order tickets, call 410-293-TIXS.

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