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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Stand-out Blanche makes Intiman's
A Streetcar Named Desire worth the Ride

A Streetcar Named Desire
Angela Pierce and
Jonno Roberts

Tennessee Williams' watershed play A Streetcar Named Desire is also one of his most difficult to get right, and the actors playing Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski in the current Intiman production have the challenge of stepping out of the long shadows of Vivien Leigh's Academy Award winning Blanche DuBois and Marlon Brando's indelible Stanley Kowalski. Director Sheila Daniels—Intiman's recently appointed Associate Artistic director—has found the ideal Blanche for the job, though her casting of Stanley is less successful. Daniels has stepped up to the plate and done a more than respectable job on the overall direction of this, her first big budget show, after years toiling and earning respect on the Seattle Fringe festival scene. While this Streetcar never goes off its rails and sometimes soars, it also hits a few bumps along its route.

Williams' classic tale of the fateful visit of wilted Southern belle Blanche DuBois (and its consequences) to her sister Stella and Stella's rough-hewn spouse Stanley Kowalski may not be the shocker it once was, but it still ranks high in the Williams canon. Daniels' direction, though erratically paced, strips the play of any excessive melodrama that is bound to turn up in a 50-year-old script, and mines as much humor as the story will allow. Her device of having much of the stage movement accomplished by the minor characters performed in slow motion is curious and calls unnecessary attention to itself.

Angela Pierce is never less than riveting as the complex and increasingly disturbed Blanche. Vocally and physically ideal for the role, Pierce creates a fascinating portrait of a woman who is so delusional that it is hard to believe anything she says. The actress shows unerring skill in the famed scene where she describes the handsome young husband who betrayed her with an older man and subsequently committed suicide following a verbal attack from Blanche. Unfortunately, Jonno Roberts' Stanley is a far les successful performance. Roberts never seems to exude the kind of smoldering animal sexuality that would lead Stella to tolerate his abusive behavior, nor does he seem to have enough of a violent, uncontrolled streak in him to perpetuate the climactic rape of Blanche.  Chelsey Rives' Stella is a problematic performance, in that her very contemporary style of acting seems at war with the conflicted young post-WWII wife she is playing. However, she is totally believable as Pierce's sister, and the two actresses shine in their moments onstage together. Tim True as Stanley's lonely buddy Mitch is all you could ask for in the role, and then some. True and Pierce create a truly affecting pair in the tender closing scene of act one, and he conveys a heartbreaking sense of loss, anger and betrayal when Mitch learns of Blanche's shady past. As Eunice and Steve Hubbell, the tenement owning upstairs neighbors, redoubtable Seattle actress Shelley Reynolds and Timothy Hyland convey great depths of character with minimal dialogue, as they interact in the upstairs unit above the main action. Though his spoken role of Pablo is tiny, as the production's pianist/composer, Jose J. Gonzalez's contribution of underscoring the majority of the play adds great atmosphere and nuances to the production.

This production is stunning to look at, thanks to Thomas Lynch's scenic design, which creates a skeletal envisioning of the interior of the Kowalski's tumble-down flat, dreamlike lighting by L.B Morse, and carefully detailed costumes by Frances Kenny. Streetcar is far less often revived than, say, The Glass Menagerie or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and whatever the production's shortcomings, it is well worth seeing. Given the full house at the performance I attended, advance reservations seem mandatory.

A Streetcar Named Desire runs through August 21 at Intiman Theatre, 101 Mercer Street in Seattle Center. For further information visit Intiman online at www.intiman.org.


Photo: ©Chris Bennion



- David Edward Hughes



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