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Broadway Review: Riveting ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ Revival Has Soul

Broadway Review: Riveting 'A Streetcar Named Desire' Revival Has Soul

Occasional S&A contributor and screenwriter/producer Kia Barbee was able to attend a show of the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, and, impressed with the play, she was more than willing to share her thoughts with us.

Directed by Emily Mann, Streetcar stars Blair Underwood as StanleyNicole Ari Parker as Blanche, Daphne Rubin-Vega as Stella, and Wood Harris as Mitch.

Streetcar, produced by Stephen Byrd, occupies the Broadhurst Theater on 44th Street through August 19, 2012. 

Without further ado, read Kia Barbee’s review of the revival below:

A Streetcar Named Desire – an untainted summary of a riveting revival

Let me set it up.  When you hear “A Streetcar Named Desire”, the next thought is Marlon Brando—by far one of the greatest actors that ever lived.  One is hard pressed to surpass Brando.  The name alone sends ripples of creative mastery through my veins.  With the exception of reading (and owning) the actual play, my only reference going into any production of Streetcar, re-imaginative or not, is the 1951 film version.  The cast from the movie are the quintessential poster child for Streetcar, however there’s always room for others to take the mantle of Tennessee Williams’ timeless classic.

Pause for a synopsis:

Set in the French Quarter of 1940’s New Orleans.  When a fragile ex southern belle Blanche DuBois, on the verge of a break down, comes to live with her dutiful sister Stella, and her cave man brut of a brother-in-law Stanley, their clash of cultures begin to destructively unravel. 

Plain and simple, the latest rendition of Streetcar has soul.  The first step towards even remotely enjoying this daring revival, means one needs to let go of the poster child version and understand that it will most likely NOT resemble verbatim what we all have deemed impenetrable—myself included.  That in of itself, does not equate to less than Brando and company, but quite frankly, expect something different.  Furthermore, come with an open mind so that you won’t prematurely gloss over what I thought was a sensual and at times emotionally gripping showcase of talent that normally (at least for the film actors out of the bunch) rarely gets to portray characters so deliciously flawed. 

For the most part, the play stays true to Williams’s spicy script.  In fact, when listening to this cast spew the dialogue, it seems well placed.  The cadence just feels right.  As a production, the set design and music are befitting this take on Streetcar.  The space is cramped and so are the characters.  They can’t hide from their flaws.  The jazzy essence of the music brings you back nicely to 1940’s New Orleans as does the costumes.  Overall, the play did lag at times and I questioned some of the blocking, which seemed awkward.  Other than that this revival of Streetcar is worthy of praise with Nicole Ari Parker’s Blanche taking the crown. 

Speaking of performances, I appreciated and respected everyone’s take on such popular characters, which I found entertaining.  Nicole Ari Parker and Blair Underwood as Stanley and Blanche were decently matched being the yin to the other’s yang.  Blair’s Stanley was without a doubt a heartthrob and I had a love/hate feeling for him throughout.  Blair played Stanley with a sexy “macho-ness”.   He was pure—as we say,  “guy-guy”.  His Stanley’s male chauvinistic traits were almost acceptable because this Stanley had swag for days.  Even Wood Harris as Mitch, the sole gentlemen among his cocky pals, normally a complete opposite entity to caveman Stanley had a subtle swag, albeit non-threatening, yet swag all the same.  If you’re not used to “swag”, then your outlook may be stunted.  Daphne Vargas and Nicole Ari Parker as sisters Stella and Blanche had a believable chemistry and their scenes together were among the best.  Vargas never backed down from her role as the conflicted peace keeper.  I was able to sympathize with Stella’s stance and the choices she is forced to make that rings true for many women passionately in love with their undeserving mates.

Now onto what was hands down for me the highlight of this latest revival of Streetcar… Nicole Ari Parker as Blanche.  What Parker did with Blanche was near flawless.  From her entrance to her exit, she maintained a blinding raw energy that perpetuated the nuances of a vainly damaged woman desperately needing to hold onto to a fading memory of her former self, but at the same time fighting her sensual cravings.  Blanche is no easy feat and Parker handled it with great finesse.  In short, she owned that character; down to her walk, her accent, her physical quirks—all a fantastic fit.  It’s a performance that I believe deserves better recognition, if not a Tony award nomination (although a Tony nod was given for Costume Design).  Despite some reviews that are suggesting that Streetcar may not be worth your time… it’s hardly that.  The play runs until August 19th at the Broadhurst Theater.

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