A Streetcar Named Desire

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater
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One of the greatest American dramas —  A Streetcar Named Desire — by one of America’s greatest dramatists — Tennessee Williams — made its Broadway debut in December of 1947. It garnered Marlon Brando such praise for his portrayal of the brutish Stanley Kowlaski that his path to stardom on stage and in film was ensured (albeit Streetcar was Brando’s last stage role). In 1951,  Streetcar was made into a much lauded movie, wherein Brando played Stanley opposite Vivien Leigh’s delusional Blanche Du Bois (that role was originated by Jessica Tandy on Broadway).

 

Now, for over half a century, productions of Streetcar have been revived on stage with varying degrees of success; all seem somehow haunted and overshadowed by the initial characterizations put forth by Brando, Tandy (on stage) and Leigh in the film version, as well as Karl Malden and Kim Hunter in major supporting roles as Mitch and Stella Kowalski. Mitch is a close friend of Stanley’s, and Stella is Stanley’s wife and Blanche’s younger sister — both performers recreated their stage characters in the film.

 

Currently in production at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles, however, is a staging of Streetcar that comes to vibrant, tragic life before our eyes. Under the delicate direction of Jack Heller this revival of Streetcar is a pertinent and insightful case study in marriage and family relations. Not only is the phenomenon of spousal abuse put on view here, psychological fragility and personal desperation are also acutely explored in this intricate theatrical achievement.

Susan Priver embodies the frazzled despondence of Blanche in a manner that evokes both pity and contempt and ultimately compassion. Ms. Priver’s focused and detailed characterization provides a path to insight and understanding of this most complicated character.

As Stanley, Max E. Williams makes this role his own (not easily achieved after Brando’s legendary turn in the part). Mr. Williams seems at first to be affable, and he doesn’t initially appear as physically  imposing — though he is well toned, with nicely defined muscularity. But, as the plot thickens, Mr. Williams’s Stanley becomes more menacing.

As Stella, Melissa Sullivan displays a range of relatable emotions, from sexual enthrallment with Stanley to helplessness with regard to her sister’s untenable situation. Plain and sympathetic, Stella is clearly and soulfully portrayed by Ms. Sullivan.

As Mitch, Stanley’s best buddy and would-be suitor to Blanche, Christopher Parker captures the  well meaningness and oafishness of this middle-aged mama’s man. The transformation of this character from good ol’boy to deceived victim seeking revenge is a well crafted portrait of a man in the depths of existential despair.

The story revolves around the disruption of the Kowalski family when Blanche arrives at the cramped, disheveled New Orleans home where her sister and brother-in-law reside. The play addresses the imbalance that results when another person calls into question the relational dynamic while adding to the dysfunction of the situation — tragedy is the inevitable result.

With a strong supporting ensemble — including Caroline Simone O'Brien as Eunice, Alejandro Bravo as Steve, Juan Sucre as Pablo, and Sean Rose as the unnamed newspaper collector. The exquisite stagecraft by Joel Daavid, scenic design; Shon LeBlanc, costuming; Derrick McDaniel, lighting design; and Christopher Moscatiello, sound design make this Streetcar worth the trip.

A Streetcar Named Desire continues at the Odyssey Theatre through July 7.  The Odyssey is located at 2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles, 90025. Evening performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 2 p.m.  For reservations call (310) 477-2055 ext. 2. For online ticketing and further information visit OdysseyTheatre.com.