Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Streetcar Named Desire—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

Fading of the Light

The classic, searing drama by Tennessee Williams is directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave., through June 19th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Paper Moons and Glass Unicorns are lovely to observe but fragile and easy to destroy.  But this fragileness is an intricate part of Life and Love…real or imagined, relying, perhaps, on “the kindness of strangers,” to get you through the night.  It is part of the world of Williams, both personal and public, where both these worlds would crash and burn but, from the ashes, would emerge savage beauty and painful poetry.  Such is the Nature of Art…and Artists.

Williams early life was dominated by a domineering mother, a fragile sister and an absent father, “who fell in love with long distance.”  Mental illness was never far from his thoughts and affected his entire life.  His sister, Rose (a prototype for “Laura” in his lyrical, The Glass Menagerie”), was institutionalized and later, lobotomized, in his early life as a young man.  One or both of these female images recur in characters in many of his plays.  Men are usually pictured as brutes or ineffectual.  Blanche, in this play, is possibly an older version of “Laura.”

Blanche DuBois (Deidrie Henry) lived the life of the elite of Southern, “polite” society at their estate, Belle Reve, as did her young sister, Stella (Kristen Adele).  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 (Demetrius Grosse), who yanked her from those lofty columns of poetic romance to the wet, hot pavements of “colored lights” and the “real” world…and she loved it.

But into this concrete jungle, having lost Belle Reve, 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 and so allowances must be made.  Blanche finds some solace in the sensitive, Mitch (Keith Eric Chappelle), 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 (Bobby Bermea), Eunice (Dana Millican) and Creola (Anya Pearson) and her frequent companion (David Bodin); the drunken poker games played with guys from his work, including, Pablo (Gilberto Martin Del Campo); a vendor (Sofia May-Cuxim) who sells flowers for the dead; and an attractive, tempting, young news boy (Blake Stone), all seem to conspire to destroy the illusions that Blanche has tried so hard to maintain.

Stanley also discovers that Blanche’s high ideals and stories of lofty romances may be just so much fictional fodder a fairy tale writer might have trouble believing.  And so her Ivory Tower begins to crumble and 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.

The set and costumes by G. W. Mercier are terrific, setting the scenes in a very realistic way in the seamy and steamy street life of the South of over 50 years ago.  The director, Coleman, has a couple of unique things going for this production.  All the characters are fully “grounded,” earthy, giving them a harsh realism that other productions of this play, miss.  It is also much more ethically cast, therefore accessible, being that this part of the country at this time would have been a melting pot of cultures, and whites would probably not have been the dominate one.  Both of these elements add to the realism of this production.

The cast of this show seems ingrained to the time period, all creating the atmosphere to make the show live.  It was good to see some familiar Portland faces, May-Cuxim, Del Campo, Bermea, and Millican in supporting roles.  Henry is first-rate as the fading light of the South.  She gives the character an earthy quality which makes her demise all the more tragic.  Grosse is appropriately brutish, exuding masculine energy whenever he’s onstage.

Adele is surprisingly strong-minded as the wife, matching her husband in determination.  And Chappelle seems, in some ways, as out of place as Blanche is, in this rough-and-tumble world.  But, the important thing is that this world is believable and the cast and crew appear to have worked hard as a team to achieve this, and they did!

The ending has always gotten a lot of criticism and rightly so.  Williams and Kazan (director) did modify it for the film and that version works better.  Can’t tell you more without ruining it but you decide.

I recommend this play.  Know that parking is a challenge in the Pearl District, so plan you time accordingly.  If you do see it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

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