Revered by many to be Tennessee Williams’ magnum opus, “A Streetcar Named Desire” is a classic among theatrical works of the 20th century. The play originally ran on Broadway from 1947 to 1949, winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1948 and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Best Play in the same year.
Gamut Theatre Group has now revived the legendary tragedy in a production directed by Clark Nicholson and starring Amber Mann as Blanche DuBois, Michelle Kay Smith as Stella Kowalski and Sean Adams as Stanley Kowalski. Blanche and Stanley’s conflicts are the centerpieces of the play, and their relationship is powerfully depicted by Mann and Adams.
“Streetcar” tells the story of southern belle Blanche DuBois, who visits her younger sister, Stella, and brother-in-law, Stanley, in New Orleans. Traveling from the family home, Belle Reve, in Laurel, Miss., Blanche is staying with Stella and Stanley for an extended period of time, having taken a leave of absence from teaching English due to her nerves and after losing Belle Reve to creditors. Without her home and with no money, Blanche has no choice but to live with Stella and Stanley in their already crowded apartment in the French Quarter.
Upon entering the Kowalskis’ apartment, Blanche immediately casts a critical eye on the small, simple, two-room space and its lack of privacy. In the first few scenes, it’s easy to understand why Blanche has a problem with her neves. High-strung, anxious and fastidious, she has no problem talking for the two of them and expressing displeasure at Stella’s living situation, among other things. She blames Stella for leaving her with the full responsibility of managing the deaths of their father and other family members, leading to the financial collapse and eventual loss of Belle Reve.
Upon meeting, Blanche and Stanley immediately dislike one another, which forms the basis of their relationship. Blanche repeatedly critiques Stanley for his rough appearance and boorish nature, and, in turn, Stanley despises Blanche for her rudeness and lengthy presence in his apartment. Stanley asks Blanche about her former marriage, and she explains that she was married young and her husband died, leaving out the details because of apparent distress.
Blanche is clearly careful of her appearance, and her vanity is precious to her. She does not step into direct light, self-conscious of her looks in her 30s. Her clothes are luxurious and plentiful, despite her recent economic hardship. Suspicious of her fine clothes and items in her trunk, Stanley believes that Blanche is lying about losing Belle Reve and is cheating Stella out of money. The couple is expecting a baby, raising the already high tensions in the apartment caused by Blanche’s neuroses and stress. As the play unfolds, the fictions that Blanche has been spinning start to unravel, eventually causing her descent into a psychotic break.
The rawness of their emotions and the strong-willed, stubborn personalities of Stanley and Blanche, played with passion and power by Adams and Mann, are complemented by the gentle, warm character of Stella depicted by Smith. The iconic “Stella!” scene was heart-wrenching and intense, and the final, intense performance by Mann capped this tale of poverty, struggle and regret.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” runs through Nov. 26 at Gamut Theatre, 15 N. 4th St., Harrisburg. For more information and tickets, call 717-238-4111 or visit www.gamuttheatre.org.