Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Limited Engagement of "A Streetcar Named Desire" Leaves WGINY Wanting More...Shows!

I am sitting in the second to last row of the orchestra, thinking to myself, "I don't remember Tennessee Williams being this funny."   I am at one of  the last runs of a limited engagement of "A Streetcar Named Desire" on Broadway.  Of course, overall, "A Streetcar Named Desire" is a strong drama, with pivotal, poignant moments that draw out the audience's antipathy for the male lead, "Stanley," played here by Blair Underwood.  A two-time Golden Globe nominee, according to Streetcar's website, Underwood (along with his perfect abs) makes his Broadway debut in this production at the Broadhurst Theatre.   

The play, which historically centers around Stanley, a Polish immigrant, his wife, Stella, (played by Daphne Rubin-Vega, who originated the role of Mimi in "Rent" on Broadway), and Stella's older sister, Blanche (Nicole Ari Parker), is re-imagined with a mostly black cast, and minute alterations in language and mannerisms of the characters brings the mid 1900s New Orleans' story in line with the times.  Originally written to take place in 1947, the scenes are, for an unexplained reason, portrayed as taking place in 1952.  Aside from some historical oddities (such as blacks and whites playing poker together and bowling on an integrated team), however, the characters remain believable, and the work-a-day, blue collar lifestyle in which Stanley and Stella are living appears, at first, to be in stark contrast to the luxurious plantation life that Blanche has been enjoying when she first drops in on the unsuspecting couple.  

Three's a crowd, and as Blanche becomes an indefinite houseguest in the small apartment in which Stanley and Stella reside, emotions quickly become tense.  Love, lust and lies intertwine, and Blanche begins to show she may not be as prim and proper as she presents.  Passion and desire begat slander, insults and rage.  

The story thrives on the interplay between Blanche's feigned naivete, Stella's real and innocent devotion to both Stanley and Blanche, and Stanley's poor temper, but it is Ms. Ari Parker's performance that literally brings the theater to a standstill.  In the final moments of the play, you could hear a pin drop as Blanche quite literally suffers her final fall from grace.  Ari Parker, as Blanche, succeeds in first winning the audience's envy, then currying its disfavor, and finally, its pity.  

The only disappointing thing about this show is that the limited engagement, which ended July 22, was not extended.  It seems that, more and more, "limited" doesn't really mean anything in theater-lingo, as it is not uncommon for Broadway and off-Broadway productions to be continually extended beyond their first announced closing date.  I had hoped, apparently to no avail (as it is now July 25 and no extension announcements have been made), that this show would continue for a bit longer, even as it claimed to have an end date, much like Blanche's welcome on Stella's couch.... 

**Update: According to Streetcar's facebook page, the production is going on tour to London.  Perhaps it will grace the New York stage again someday sooner rather than later... 

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