Wednesday, October 8, 2008

To Graduate . . .

. . . I have to satisfy a humanities requirement. As part of the class, we have to attend local plays and review them. This is my write-up of the DePaul Theatre School's production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

A Streetcar Named Is This Thing Over, Yet?

The neon lights and signage hanging from the balcony were slightly unsettling. The window frames hanging directly over the stage for no reason re-enforced my fear that this production might go a little over the top or “try too hard.” Sadly, the unyielding reminders that the play is set in New Orleans were nuanced when compared to other aspects of the DePaul Theatre’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

When Megan Kohl’s Blanche DuBois appears, telling Eunice, “They told me to take a streetcar named Desire . . .” I asked myself, “Is she going to talk that way for the entire show?” Not to say that Kohl gives a terrible performance, it’s just that when an accent is done well – it lends to our forgetting that it’s an actor delivering these lines. When done poorly, an accent can be the most irritating sound imaginable (Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain is a terrific example of this.). The southern drawl is a mixture of affluence and something gothic. Like Williams’ work, it’s probably one of the more difficult to achieve without being egregious. Even with maverick Dialect Coach Phil Timberlake manipulating tongues, it just didn’t work. Jonathan Kitt as Stanley Kowalski is able to deliver the barrel-chested delivery the role requires, but lacks some of the sexuality, and charm that makes us wonder who Stanley is, or why anyone would choose to be around such a person. Lucy Sandy as Stella captures the conflict of a woman torn between two opposing forces. Mitch, as conceived by Edward Karch, turns the character into an oaf. Every line is spoken in a Gomer Pyle, “Der, I dunno what’s going on.” I attended the first night of previews. His lines drew laughter from the audience. I don’t think they were supposed to.

I assumed the direction was under the helm of a student of the Theatre School. I was surprised to learn that Damon Kiely is a veteran of the stage, and a heavily-lauded director. You couldn’t tell me that based on the blocking. I haven’t seen the back of so many heads since I sat nosebleed at the United Center. At one point, Blanche’s luggage is stood upright at the foot of the stage. It obstructed the view of five rows for ten whole minutes! Some of the devices used to convey the ominous, and lend towards Blanche’s instability are horribly clich├ęd. The echo effects that take over prior to Blanche’s rape worked only to draw laughter from theatergoers three rows back. The make-up used on the Mexican flower lady was completely unnecessary. A frail voice calling out “Flowers for the Dead” into the night should work on its own. You don’t need to have her walk in-between the two main subjects and stagger out down the hall. In fact, I can guarantee that most of the audience took their focus off the show to see if she was going to fall as she stepped off the stage and into the aisle. I know I did. Also, the masks the cast adorn during the rape scene reminded me of the creepy robot villain lady from Superman III (here).

The second intermission was completely unnecessary. When the lights came back on, I thought that perchance the DePaul Theatre School felt the third act was too difficult/sensitive/intense an act to conduct, so they’re stopping after two. Sadly, I was wrong. It was like being on a road trip with someone you can’t stand who insists on stopping at any and all opportunity.

For what it’s worth it was the best version of A Streetcar Named Desire I’ve ever seen . . . on that particular day.

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