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Augusta drama filled with steamy desire

By |2018-01-15T22:03:20-05:00August 4th, 2011|Entertainment|

By Bridgette Redman

“A Streetcar Named Desire” continues through Aug. 7. Photo: Barn Theatre

When “A Streetcar Named Desire” rattled its way into Augusta, it discharged its passengers into an Elysium Fields filled with steamy sexuality, simmering violence and fantasies not quite powerful enough to dispel the unbearable realities of life.
The Tennessee Williams classic is fully realized in all its tragic proportions at the Barn Theatre in Augusta, with an ensemble of actors that brings to life deeply textured characters that we want to like rather than pity despite the despair and violence that colors their lives.
Meg Schneider and Eric Parker play Stella and Stanley, a New Orleans couple in the heat of a very physical marriage, lust bonding them together despite their different backgrounds. Parker is sexy and down-to-earth, while Schneider is sweet, eager and seems to be living a life she has chosen and wants. Even as things start to break down, her loyalty to her husband is intense, and she insists she does not want out of the life that from the outside looks bleak and threatening.
Penelope Alex creates a tragic Blanche whose snobbish clutching for a genteel and cultured life that is at odds with her reality cause shred after shred of sanity to fall away. She shows up at her sister’s doorstep for an indefinite visit, claiming to be on a leave of absence from work because of her nerves. As the play progresses, she reveals ever more about how her life has fallen apart around her. These revelations are made all the more painful as her brother-in-law despises her as much as she detests him. The two are in a constant culture and class clash, pushing each other ever further into desperate acts.
There is a reason that those items normally illegal in hiring and job decisions are considered bona fide occupational qualifications when it comes to acting. Age and appearance matter. The age gap between the actors playing Blanche and Stella was too wide. They would have been believable as the mother-daughter pair in Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” but they were not as sisters. Given how frequently the play draws attention to Blanche’s age, the gap was too noticeable and interrupted the suspension of disbelief. We cannot even characterize Blanche’s statement that she is younger than her sister as a “fib;” it is farce. Both actresses were superlative in their performance of the individual roles, but they could not mesh together because they were too obviously multiple decades apart in age.
This gap is the one major flaw in a production that was otherwise intense and heartbreaking. Parker’s Stanley is convincingly likeable. Even after his drunken violence instigated on Stella, he invites forgiveness not just from Stella, but from the audience as well. It’s easier to excuse the affable Parker than the annoying snootiness of Alex’s Blanche. Such choices make the final conflicts and outcome even more formidably moving. There is an indictment not of class differences but of the cruelty with which people treat each other and the destructive games that desire plays with our lives and our choices.
Roy Brown makes a meek and tender Mitch, quickly taken with Blanche and the act she plays for him. She makes herself into what he wants and he is the perfect suitor, right up until he learns of her past. He then presents a pain agonizing to witness.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” is by no means a feel-good production. It is, though, a highly meaningful evening of theater that challenges, provokes and asks biting questions about sex, relationships, reputation and mental health that are as relevant now as they were in 1947 when the play was first written.

‘A Streetcar Named Desire’
Barn Theatre, 13351 W. M-96, Augusta. Tuesday-Sunday through Aug. 7. $34. 269-731-4121.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.