By David Kiley
"A Streetcar Named Desire" plays through Monday, Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Monday nights with 3 p.m. Sunday matinees. Ticket prices are $20 for Friday and Saturday performances, $15 for Sunday shows and Monday nights are HALF OFF the original ticket price at only $10 a ticket. The Ringwald Theatre is located at 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale.
Walking into The Ringwald Monday night, I'll admit I was a little frightened. Being told "there are two intermissions" for "A Streetcar Named Desire" can be a bit daunting to a 21st century theater-goer. But from the moment I stepped into the theater space, I knew that I was in for something special.
Starting with the scenic design, Alexander Carr's massive set fills the entire Ringwald stage and spills over onto the house-right side of the room. We not only have the home of Stanley and Stella Kowalski – complete with outdoor balcony/porch – but we also see the stoop and front door of neighbors Steve and Eunice Hubbell. Within Stanley and Stella's abode there are tables and chairs, beds and dressers, kitchen cupboards, sinks and doors leading into bathrooms and out back, and a curtain that opens and closes. All of that set design gives us, the audience, a sense of another era, as do the costumes of Barbie Weisserman. Think pleated pants and short ties for the men and "house dresses" for the women. (One often forgets that "Streetcar" isn't a Stanley/Stella/Blanche three-hander, but also features an ensemble.) Blanche, of course, gets all the good stuff: a red robe with frills, a white summer dress worn with wedge heels, faux furs and rhinestone tiaras, revealing lace nighties. Surprisingly, Weisserman chooses not to put Stanley in the classic "wife-beater" tank, a testament to the refusal of this production — and its director Travis Reiff — to provide us with a stereotypical "Streetcar."
And neither does his cast. As Williams' tragic heroine, Blanche Dubois (Jamie Warrow) gives a truly compelling performance. Full disclosure: Warrow and I go way back to our college days at Wayne State. This being said, as a reviewer I applaud her work in this production. As a friend who hasn't seen her onstage in 20-plus years, I couldn't be more proud. What could easily have turned into a caricature of a femme fatale Southern Belle, Warrow will not allow it. Yes, her Blanche Dubois is a femme fatale Southern Belle. She's got the accent and the swooning gestures, and she gives us a Blanche Dubois that anyone who thinks of "Blanche Dubois" is going to dub as decent. But there's something real about this woman in Warrow's portrayal of her – something that is sad and desperate, and even a little pathetic, as her Blanche begins the downward spiral brought on by her dark past, and drinking.
As Blanche's sister, Stella, Meredith Deighton is a woman caught between the love she feels for her husband and the loyalty she has for her older sister. Her husband Stanley is a hot head. Blanche is a drama queen. In Deighton's performance, we see a woman who refuses to believe anything negative about the two most important people in her life. Little by little, as Blanche's secret past is revealed, we see Deighton's fight to accept the facts, and her disappointment in the man responsible for revealing them to her.
In the role of Stanley, Michael Lopetrone isn't quite the actor that one would expect to be cast — at least not at first glance. He isn't particularly tall or physically foreboding. But once his Stanley's way of life is impinged on by the unexpected arrival of his wife's sister, and once he is called "common" and a "Polack," and he gets a few drinks in him – look out! Like with Blanche Dubois, there is such an ingrained impression of Stanley Kowalski in our culture, it's a wonder any actor would attempt to embody the character. In the moments leading up to Stanley's big "Stellaaa!" moment, I kept asking myself "How's this guy gonna do it?" And I have to say, Lopetrone nailed it. There was no macho bravado, no attempting at playing "Stanley Kowalski" a la Marlon Brando or anybody else before him. Lopetrone just opened up his mouth and cried out the word, like a wounded animal or a little lost boy looking for his mother.
Rounding out the principal players, Brandy Joe Plambeck as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell gives the most subtle and poignant of all the performances. While I haven't seen much of his work since returning to Michigan, when I think of Brandy Joe, I think "funny." Well, there is nothing funny about Plambeck's portrayal of Mitch. In fact, the guy is downright heartbreaking. Here we see a man who is desperate to fall in love, a man who wants nothing more than to make his momma happy by settling down with the right woman – a woman who he hopes in his heart will be Miss Blanche Dubois. Plambeck's Mitch comes off as a bit of a sad sack. It's okay. We feel for him. He's the underdog, a soft man who perhaps no woman might ever love. And in Plambeck's scenes with Warrow, we get a sense that Mitch and Blanche do love each other. They might even live happily ever after, forever and forever … if only this wasn't a Tennessee Williams play we were watching at The Ringwald Theatre.
Thankfully, for us, it is.