Monday, February 6, 2017

A Streetcar Named Desire—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

“The Kindness of Strangers”

This classic, Tennessee Williams’, play is directed by Tony Bump.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard), through February 19th (limited parking in the church lot across the street).  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org

Williams is unique among playwrights in that his plays are both deeply personal, as well as beautifully poetic.  Another author that has these same attributes is one of my favorites, Ray Bradbury.  Williams wears his feelings on his shirtsleeves and so it evident, under the guise of drama, for all to see.  He was strongly influence by women growing up and had no father figure and his plays reflect that, as his women are the focal points for his stories and men are either brutes or wimps.  Blanche is looking for Heaven (Elysian Fields), as she feels she has been in Hell, so boards a vehicle called “Desire” to take her there.  In an odd sort of way, she achieves this in the end, through “the kindness of strangers.”

Blanche DuBois (Dorinda Toner, Twilight’s Artistic Director) lived the life of the elite of Southern, “polite” society at their estate, Belle Reeve, as did her younger sister, Stella (Lynn Greene).  But Stella felt a disconnect with this privileged world and fled to the Big City, New Orleans, and the French Quarter, to meet up with a working class brute of a “common” man, Stanley Kowalski (Ted Hartsook).  He yanked her down from those lofty columns of poetic romance to the wet, hot pavements of “colored lights” and the “real” world…where anything can be forgiven by moans in the dark…and she loved it.

But into this concrete jungle, having lost Belle Reeve, appears Blanche one day, arriving on a streetcar named Desire, for one last, desperate attempt to revive her old world dreams.  But her, and Stella’s worlds, have nothing in common now and so allowances must be made.  Blanche finds some solace in the sensitive, Mitch (Colin Trevor), a friend of Stanley’s from work.

But reality has a way of raising its ugly head and the outside world, consisting of their upstairs neighbors, Steve (Jason England) and Eunice (Crystal Lemons) and a friend, Ruby (Sarah Fuller); the drunken poker games played with guys from his work, consisting of Steve, Mitch and Pablo (Johnnie Torres); and an attractive, tempting, young news boy (Ned Grade), all seem to conspire to destroy the illusions that Blanche has tried so hard to maintain.  And so, like the fabled walls of Jericho, they are destined to collapse.

Also, Stanley discovers that Blanche’s high ideals and stories of lofty romances may be just so much fictional fodder that a fairy tale writer might have trouble believing.  And so her Ivory Tower begins to crumble and, on one fateful night, it will explode.  The details of the story you will have to experience for yourself, for there are discoveries only an audience should make.

Elia Kazan directed both the stage and screen versions of this play, utilizing most of the stage cast for the movie.  The play’s climax got a lot of flack from the public because it seemed to condone abuse and so the film soften that somewhat, which I approve.  This play is difficult for even professional companies and I must admit that Twilight does an admirable job of presenting it.  They have only a small space but it works to its advantage here, so that the story appears out of this confined clutter, making it almost stifling in its claustrophobic atmosphere, designed by the director, Bump, Fuller and Robin Pair.  It is to Bump’s credit, also, that he has chosen a cast that does embody the characters so well.  And, as mentioned, his set and furnishings have that cramped feel to it that makes us, and especially Blanche, feel that the world is crowding them and penning them in, leaving no room for illusions or dreams.

Hartsook’s, Stanley, gives us the brutish guy that you dislike from the beginning.  It’s obvious that he is a bully and preys on people like Blanche (and Mitch) because it makes him feel superior.  Greene is believable as the abused wife in which the daylight is tolerable as long as she has her man in the night.  Toner’s, Blanche, reveals how delicate her condition is in from the beginning.  Her monologues about her dead husband, memories of her youth, and her description of Stanley, are very touching and well delivered.  Trevor, as the sensitive male with the ill mother, is spot on in his portrayal.  You see the pent up frustrations he must feel and when his illusions are also destroyed, he is a broken man.  Well done by these troopers and the whole cast and crew.

I recommend this play but it does deal with adult material, so be advised.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.