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Volume 72, Issue 95, Monday, February 19, 2007

Life & Arts

ĎA streetcar' not desired

Over-the-top accents, lack of authentic relationships among couples hinders production of classic play 

by MONICA GRANGER 
The Daily Cougar

Even though Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire opened Friday, the anticipation of witnessing the classic play that deals with social, cultural and political conflicts was surely not delivered. 

Set in New Orleans in the late 1940s, Williams' play details the Old South mentality clashing with that of the burgeoning capitalist.

Imagine the disappointment, then, when Blanche DuBois (Laura Frye), around whom the play revolves, saunters on stage with an accent more meretricious than a Mississippi belle and manners so phony even Holly Golightly, "the real phony," would not approve. 

Frye could also have benefited from those Southern etiquette classes Borat attended in order to act less like him. The initially graceful sauntering devolved over the course of the play into an aerobic lunge-fest. Stella Kowalski (Aline Elasmar) held good stage presence until the end, but managed to remain disconnected from the concepts of both sisterly love toward Blanche and conjugal affection toward husband Stanley Kowalski (Shelley Wilson). Some well-placed comments from the director could have solved this problem and made it easier for the audience to discover and contemplate the already textually complex interactions between the characters' social, cultural and political facets. 

Stanley still had some great moments, including the famed line, "Stella, Stella," exquisitely acted but rendered less convincing because of Stanley's and Stella's lack of marital affection. 

Nor was there any sexual tension between Stanley and Blanche, which rendered their burgeoning rape scene about as meaningful as a summer sneeze when Williams intended it to symbolize a brutal clash between different cultures, classes and sexes. Blanche's subsequent insanity seems pointless after this lackluster setup.

Not to mention the awkward moments, like when Wilson mumbled over the lines (and his 1940s Polish stage accent) during an intricate, and as already established, completely nonsexual husband and wife dialogue in the kitchen. Stanley's enraged shouts were many and Wilson tackled them with ease, although several veered toward strident and overbearing. Through no fault of his own, Wilson did not look seedy enough to convince this reviewer that he was visceral and crude. 

William Diggle played the part of Harold "Mitch" Mitchell spot on. Diggle convinced the audience that he was a working-class man dopey enough to fall for a bankrupt aristocrat strung out on alcohol but strong, or perhaps prejudiced, enough to eventually walk away. 

Portia Gant played Eunice Hubbell beautifully and ever-elegantly despite the sometimes-bawdy French Quarter acting. Gant's stage appearances were as merciful as a spring breeze. Steve Hubbell (Matt Lusk) and his wife also managed to spark where Stanley and Stella sputtered, which made their love-chase scene both funny and believable. 

The action, as many anticipated based on director Byrnes' more than 20-year stage combat experience, was superbly crafted. The multi-character fight scene was so harmonious it seemed the characters were floating on stage. The dialogue at this point was also sound perhaps because the feigned accents obstructed one another.

Tennessee Williams' play is a powerhouse of dramatic, intense emotion and certainly gives student actors a challenge. The director's capacity becomes acutely important at these times, leading them through barren wastelands littered with the remains of one-movie wonders. 

The production continues this week, but in the words of Blanche DuBois: "Please, don't get up."

Send comments to dcshobiz@mail.uh.edu

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