M&D Productions is taking on a cultural icon with its production of Tennessee Williams' “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which open tonight, June 3, at Your Theatre in North Conway, NH at 8 p.m. with additional dates June 4, 5, June 10-12 and June 17-19.
This is quite possibly M&D's biggest show to date, not in terms of scale, but in the expectations and pre-conceived notions that come along with the show, which remains one of the most famous in both American theater and cinema.
For a community theater to take on a show carrying such cultural weight is no small undertaking, but this cast under the assured direction of Richard Russo has pulled it off and managed to retain all of the complexities and power of Williams' masterpiece.
“Streetcar” is the tragic story of Blanche DuBois (Christine Thompson), who seeks sanctuary and solace with her sister Stella (Heather Elise Hamilton) in New Orleans.
Blanche, a fallen Southern Belle desperately trying to cling to an image of herself that may no longer exist, comes into direct conflict with Stella's blue collar husband Stanley Kowalski (Ryan Sturgis).
In talking about “Streetcar,” it is impossible to ignore the specter of the 1951 film version or, more specifically, Marlon Brando. Stanley Kowalski was one of Brando's first film roles and the one that made him a star. It still remains one of his signature performances and it is difficult to separate Stanley from Brando.
Sturgis tackles the difficult task of playing Stanley and captures all of the character's raw magnetism and explosive rage. He doesn't do Brando, but like Brando, he has a brooding, frightening intensity that is paired with the emotional maturity of a child. Stanley is smarter than he looks, though, and Sturgis silently finds those moments where Stanley's wheels are turning.
But this is really Blanche's story and her show. Thompson manages to get all the complex shading of her character, which director Russo refers to as the female Hamlet in terms of the emotional journey the character goes through.
Blanche has been wearing so many masks and facades that even she isn't really sure who she is and where the line between reality and fantasy is anymore. As the show progresses, that line becomes increasingly blurred. She is a character that is fragile and vulnerable, but also has tremendous strength. Thompson gets all of that and does so in a way that isn't false or shrill. She makes Blanche sympathetic and believable.
The structure of the show is one that offers Blanche hope in the form of one of
Stanley's poker buddies, Mitch (Adam Kee). Mitch is a sweet and awkward momma's boy who falls easily under Blanche's charms. Kee is very likable, and in his scenes of courtship with Thompson the show nearly enters the realm of lighthearted romantic comedy. Throughout it all, though, there is always a sense of danger from Stanley and from the secrets in Blanche's past.
In the middle of all this is Hamilton's Stella, who is forced to be a buffer between the clashing personalities of Stanley and Blanche. She is constantly jumping through hoops to keep both happy. Most of Hamilton's performance is reaction. Watch her face in the final scene to see how good she really is. She doesn't say a word and you know exactly what she feels.
In addition to the fine acting, the production's set and tech are equally top notch. The set designed by Deborah Jasien effectively recreates the cramped two-room apartment as well as the iconic stairs that Stanley stands below as he so famously screams “Stella!” Lighting design by Mark DeLancey captures the perfect mood for the sultry New Orleans settling, and jazz musical interludes reflect the atmosphere of the city.
For more information and tickets call 662-7591.