Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
A Streetcar Named Desire
Director Terrence J. Nolen's deliciously nuanced, beautifully staged, rage-inducing production does not disappoint. The impressive ensemble brings authenticity to Williams' classic work. Paige Hathaway's clever scenic design draws the audience into the oppressive heat and uncomfortably tight quarters of the Kowalski's home. Ann G. Wrightson's dynamic lighting design and original musical interludes by Daniel Ison set an appropriately ominous tone.
Fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois comes to stay with her younger sister Stella. Blanche immediately dismisses Stella's husband Stanley as a less-than-human brute who is not good enough for her baby sister. Stanley finds Blanche unbearably pretentious and suspects she is trying to swindle Stella. Despite Stella's earnest attempts to calm tensions, Stanley remains relentless in his attempts to bring down Blanche's aristocratic façade. In the sweltering heat and cramped quarters of the one-room flat, their mutual disdain morphs into something more toxic. At its essence, Streetcar is about what happens to people when they have no good choices left.
Katharine Powell stars as Blanche, Emilie Krause is Stella, and Matteo Scammell plays Stanley. The trio has powerful chemistry. Under Nolan's direction, all three actors bring complexity and richness to Williams' characters. Matteo convincingly delivers the macho bravado and limitless self-importance we've come to expect from Stanley Kowalski, but he wisely roots that attitude in visible frustration and a clear sense of inadequacy. When Stanley overhears Blanche criticizing him in front of Stella, he initially appears more hurt than angry. When he warns Blanche not to call him a Polak, there is real sadness behind his contempt. Krause plays Stella with quiet strength and practical wisdom. Not merely a doe-eyed fool, Krause's Stella seems to have good insight into the dynamics playing out around her. Katherine Powell's Blanche is visibly beaten down by her losses, every facet of her personality merely a shield she has crafted to protect herself. Powell's interpretation is spectacular.
Akeem Davis is tragically charming as Mitch, and Taysha Marie Canales plays Eunice with endearing gusto.
Although it opened on Broadway in 1947, this Streetcar feels quite relevant, perhaps because we have all spent time suffering the claustrophobia of shared living spaces and increasingly limited options, or because the dire effects of economic and gender inequality loom as large in America today as they did more than 70 years ago. Or, perhaps it is simply because most of us know exactly what it feels like to be trapped.
A Streetcar Named Desire runs through February 13, 2022, at the Arden Theatre, 40 N. Second St., Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, visit ardentheatre.org or call 215-922-1122. Mask and vaccine proof required.