By Tennessee Williams
Directed by David Cromer
At Writers’ Theatre, Glencoe, IL
Gritty realism is intensified in Cromer’s A Streetcar Named Desire
“Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see each other in life.” – Tennessee Williams
“I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”- Blanche DuBois
Director David Cromer is known for ultra-realistic environments on stage. He, with Collette Pollard’s runway set aptly depicting the two room New Orleans apartment, gets us close to the action in the “fish bowl” atmosphere at Writers’ Tudor stage. This intimacy gave the drama a heightened sense of emotional power. This Streetcar felt like a refreshing re-examination of the 1947 classic.
Streetcar is Number 4 on my list of “The 25 Significant American Plays Everyone Should See.” It is one of those plays that shouldn’t be messed with. The language is both poetic and illuminating. Tennessee Williams’ classic brings to life the unforgettable characters of Stella, Stanley and Blanche in an explosive drama of loneliness and isolation, the difficulties of communication, and the individual’s solitary search for the values and meaning absent from the modern world. Director Cromer states that Streetcar’s greatness comes from its examination of “if we unabashedly follow our desires, where will they take us?”
Enter Blanche DuBois (the deeply nuanced Natasha Lowe) with a difficult past she’s trying to put out of her mind with romantic illusions of what her life should have been. Stella (the steady Stacy Stoltz) kindly opens her dingy New Orleans apartment to her sister. From the beginning Stanley (in a believable ultra-intense magnificent performance by Matt Hawkins) is less than pleased to have this woman in his home, and even more distracted by what he feels is her “belle of the ball” act, which ultimately results in a major confrontation. As Williams himself remarks, “the play is about the ravishment of the tender, the sensitive, the delicate, by the savage and brutal forces of modern society.” Hawkins truthfully evokes the brutality of man. Hawkins performance of Stanley was a breakthrough role for this talented actor.
Not since Chekhov has a playwright injected psychological reality into a storyline with as much finesse. Williams smoothly takes us into the fantasy world of Blanche as she desperately attempts to have her delusions overcome the inevitability of reality. We are pulled into the story’s nuance almost immediately. Rarely do we see the working class characters staged in a psychological struggle, especially audiences in 1947. Williams opened new turf with Streetcar. This work has strong sensual and sexual tones without dirty language or nudity. When Stanley takes off his shirt or Blanche appears in a slip, the sensuality emotes from each proving that the anticipation of sex is more erotic than the act.
Ultimately A Streetcar Named Desire rises or falls with who plays Blanche. Natasha Lowe brought a sense of nostalgia making her fantasies appear real. Lowe plays that demanding role with a sense of underlying self-destructiveness. She had the depth, the looks, and the gestures that powerfully and gradually took Blanche into the fantasy world toward insanity. Lowe has the Southern drawl down pat and she quickly displayed her vulnerability and sexual attraction. Her chemistry and sensual attraction toward Matt Hawkins’ Stanley worked to create enough tension to trigger an explosion. She wonderfully took us into Blanche’s dream world. Natasha Lowe is an actress of outstanding depth.
Cromer and Writers’ Theatre have a refreshingly intense production of Streetcar that is filled with honest performances. Tennessee Williams fans will cherish this wrenching drama.
At Writers’Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, IL, call 847-242-6000, www.writerstheatre.org, tickets $40 -$65, Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 7;30, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 6 pm, Wednesday matinees at 2 pm on June 9 & 30 only, running time is 2 hours, 50 minutes with 2 intermissions.