By D. A. Blackburn
Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” is, without a doubt, one of the most widely known and critically acclaimed plays of the 20th century. A true classic, it’s made its way to the big screen, the television, the ballet and even the operatic stage, but in its purest form – as a stage play – it is at its very best. And to this end, the Purple Rose Theatre Company has just unveiled a very pure, very powerful “Streetcar.”
They’ve given this familiar tale a gorgeous stage to play out on, and pulled out the stops to make a near-perfect production. The cast, which includes Matthew David (Stanley), Charlyn Swarthout (Stella), Qarie Marshall (Mitch) and Michelle Mountain (Blanche DuBois), is well led by director Guy Sanville. The creative team behind the show has given it excellent dimension with detailed costuming and props, and both lighting and sound designs show a clever grace. They’ve even taken care in crafting elegant scene changes that showcase the wonderful musicality of Rhonda Freya English (Negro Woman). And though the curtain call brought an enthusiastic full house to their feet, there are a few picky details that keep this show from the zenith of its potential.
Mountain shows a firm grasp of Blanche’s complex emotions and internal struggle, but voices her character too cautiously. Her acting is powerful, but her accent feels more sex kitten (think Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby”) than Southern belle. Likewise, David has tremendous presence as Stanley, but sounds a bit too modern New York for the French Quarter of the 1940s.
Lastly, and certainly least important, is the decision to have characters fake their smoking. It’s a reasonable and understandable choice, particularly in such an intimate theater, but it seems an odd juxtaposition against designs so detailed and lovingly crafted that you can see the sweat on shirts, hear faucets running and feel the table shake as Stanley is restrained against it.
But these are the most miniscule of critiques in an otherwise stellar production. And the Purple Rose’s “Streetcar” is certainly that.
‘A Streetcar Named Desire’
The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park St., Chelsea. Wed.-Sun. through March 21. Tickets: $25-$38. For information: 734-433-7673 or http://www.purplerosetheatre.org