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A Streetcar Named Desire

Pioneer Press

April 5, 2007
BY ROBERT LOERZEL

Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" has two of the most famous lines in all of American theater: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," and, of course, "Stella!"

It's impossible to see the play without thinking of Marlon Brando, who created a sensation with his portrayal of Stanley Kowalski, both on the stage and on the screen.

And it also has the distinction of having been satirized on "The Simpsons" - in a musical version call "O Streetcar!"

That's a lot of pop-culture baggage to bring along on this streetcar ride, but Williams' script endures as a classic piece of writing. It may not be quite as shocking as it was when audiences first saw it, but it still carries some shock value. With the right cast, it remains a moving and powerful story.

The current production at the Metropolis benefits immensely from Brenda Barrie's convincing and stirring performance as Blanche Dubois.

Barrie plays Blanche with a volatile combination of pride and desperation. She's haughty, eccentric, maybe insane and definitely fragile, deceiving both herself and those around her about her past.

Barrie seems to bring Blanche a sense of inner strength, a feeling of determination that somehow she's going to make it in the world, even as she trembles with fear and shame about her downtrodden status.

"A Streetcar Named Desire" is set in motion by Blanche's arrival at her New Orleans home of her sister, Stella (Erin Ordway) and Stella's primitive "ape" of a husband, Stanley (Frank Zito).

Ordway plays Stella with the earthy, blue-collar-gal personality that the role requires.

Zito faces the biggest challenge of all, trying to overcome the expectation that he should look, sound and act like one of the giants of American acting, Marlon Brando. He wisely avoids an outright imitation, though he does occasionally use some gestures similar to Brando's.

Perhaps Zito could bring a little more menace to his performance as Stanley, but he does give the character an everyman quality. It's believable that Stella would love this guy, and it's also believable that Blanche would be revolted by him. And whenever Stanley turns violent, it feels real.

As directed by Matthew Reeder, the Metropolis staging of "Streetcar" features an effectively ramshackle set, moody lighting and well-chosen snippets of music (including a few versions of Gershwin's "Summertime"). Even though the weather outside the theater wasn't particularly hot, the plays atmosphere did feel steamy.

"Streetcar" is a long show - nearly three hours, including two intermissions - but it never lags. Barrie's performance as Blanche is mesmerizing, building to a finale that feels truly tragic.


           

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