City Paper is not for tourists.
When a play is as well-known as Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, a theater company can experiment with the interpretation, knowing the audience will be able to follow. The Keegan Theatre’s production, under directors Eric Lucas and Mark A. Rhea (who also star as Mitch and Stanley, respectively), explores the play’s comic potential. The entire first scene is especially humorous, whatever the directors intended, because it introduces three familiar archetypes: The first thing he-man Stanley Kowalski does when he sees his ripe, pregnant wife, Stella (Susan Marie Rhea), is to throw a package of meat at her. Their rough but happy life is disrupted by the arrival of Stella’s prissy, boozy sister, Blanche DuBois (Kerry Waters). Her affectation, apparent in her reaction to Stella’s apartment—“Oh, I’m not going to be hypocritical; I’m going to be honestly critical about it! Never, never, never in my worst dreams could I picture—only Poe! Only Mr. Edgar Allan Poe!—could do it justice!”—should and does get laughs. When Stanley hits Stella in a drunken rage in Scene 3, however, the frivolity has to end. The rest of the play dramatizes the struggle between two worldviews, Stanley’s blue-collared American aggression and the DuBoises’ faded French gentility, and it’s not much of a contest. The Keegan production, recently returned from a tour of Ireland, takes advantage of the home court to mount a cluttered, realistic set; Shadia A. Hafiz’s costumes are particularly apt. Susan Marie Rhea gives us a frisky Stella, avoiding the pitfall of playing her as a frump or doormat. She fairly leaps against Stanley whenever she kisses him, reminding us that sexual desire runs in the DuBois family. Lucas’ Mitch, the mama’s boy who is Blanche’s last suitor, is also well-played; self-effacing, he bows his head in embarrassment when Blanche pours her treacly flattery on him. Unfortunately, Mark Rhea the director fails to generate enough heat between Mark Rhea the actor and Waters. When the rape scene arrives, Waters essentially lays herself on the bed, and Stanley’s “We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning” is thrown away while he concentrates on undoing his silk pajamas. Part of the reason may be that Waters doesn’t act or look as fragile as most Blanches—she’s tall, and plays the early scenes knowingly, as if her neediness is all an act—so she doesn’t convince us in the final scenes that she really feels helpless and trapped. At least we can laugh with her, though, for a while.—Janet Hopf