“A Streetcar Named Desire” is one of the most iconic plays of all time, made especially popular by the 1951 movie, in which Marlon Brando played the character of Stanley Kowalski.
Sean Adams, who plays Stanley in Gamut Theatre’s production of the 1947 play written by Tennessee Williams, grapples with the reputation of both the character and the assumptions about the play. He describes the importance of seeing the point of view of the character, regardless of the terrible things that he does.
It is not enough to classify any character as good or bad, or even evil. Adams plays a character who is abusive, domineering and, as he explains, “more unlike me than any character I’ve ever played.”
These complicated characteristics are exactly what Williams was getting at as he shows the honest life of a destructive family unit: Stanley, the World War II veteran with an explosive temper and increasingly aggressive tendencies (played by Adams); Stella, his pregnant wife who confuses destruction with love (played by Michelle Kay Smith); and Blanche, Stella’s sister, who has come to stay with the couple after some personal struggles in her life and who has a tense, antagonistic relationship with Stanley (played by Amber Mann). The story unravels as these characters live and breathe with each other, with all of their dysfunction, through extreme heartache, pain and loss of innocence.
Although most people know the play because of Brando’s film portrayal of the character, Adams believes that it is actually Blanche’s story and encourages audiences to seek an experience with live theater that is far different from film. He describes the play as, “the tragic and beautiful attempt by a fading southern belle to cling onto something to save herself,” and Williams shows us how truly difficult this can be in the America where old-money stories are being replaced with the fresh ideas of upward mobility by a new, post-war working class.
Trying to live up to an iconic portrayal helps no one, Adams explains.
“Really, I can’t do what Brando did,” he said. “Nobody could do what Brando did. So, all I can do is my own thing.”
That is exactly what Adams intends to do. His aim is to get to the bottom of Stanley’s character—to explore how he can do terrible things and yet still be human.
“He is not just this monster,” Adams said. “He is a real living human, and Tennessee Williams wrote these incredible characters for a reason.”
That is, Stanley is not only there to do horrible things and cause destruction without end, which has been his reputation.
If we are to trust Adams when he says that, in his eyes, this is really Blanche’s story, then we have to trust that his particular portrayal of Stanley will do right by the play—that it will highlight how dangerous it can be for a woman to be in a situation in which not only viewpoints clash, but where there is also a power dynamic that silences her impact, both as a character within the play and as an observable character, by the dominating force that is Stanley Kowalski.
Adams makes clear that a role is not defined by the actors who play them, and it is in his best interest to make his character as true and as honest as possible—and really make it his own.
All of this proves that the play is more than just a characterization of abuse or toxic family relationships. Adams states that the play addresses what most actors are looking for “to get that really ugly kind of moment—to play that and find the truth in it.”
The ugly truth is a primary reason why this play, and Tennessee Williams plays in particular, is fascinating to audiences, Adams said.
When it was first performed, and for some even today, it is a different kind of acting— a different kind of story— where the characters try desperately to do right and still do wrong. We like it because, above all, it demonstrates beautiful pain, in the realest sense, where sometimes there isn’t a hero, and sometimes there isn’t a happy ending.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” runs Nov. 4 to 26 at Gamut Theatre, 15 N. 4th St., Harrisburg. For more information and tickets, call 717-238-4111 or visit www.gamuttheatre.org.
Upcoming Theater Events
At Harrisburg’s Professional
At Gamut Theatre
“A Streetcar Named Desire”
By Tennessee Williams
Nov. 4 to 26
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Doors and bar open one hour prior to performance.
TMI Improv Show
Doors and bar open at 6:30 p.m. and remain open throughout the event.
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online or at the door.
The Popcorn Hat Players Present
“A Popcorn Hat Christmas Carol”
Nov. 29 to Dec. 16
Saturdays at 1 p.m.
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. available by request for groups of 20 or more.
Tickets are $8 online or by calling the box office
At Open Stage
Court Street Cabaret: Jukebox Edition
An evening of song from Broadway and beyond!
Nov. 3 and 4
“A Christmas Carol”
A dazzling new production of the classic Dickens tale
Dec. 1 to 23
“The Santaland Diaries”
David Sedaris’ irreverent one-man-show
Dec. 3 to 22