When Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway 61 years ago, it marked a major change in American theater. The stunned audiences present as young performers Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy played the primitive Stanley Kowalski and the delusional Blanche DuBois, realized, by the time the curtain fell, that everything they’d ever seen onstage up to that point had been artificial and shallow in comparison.
Rightly considered to be among the very best American plays ever written, Streetcar, which just opened a three-week run at the Marin Theatre Company, has proven to be a difficult play to stage, in part because of Brando’s indelible, unmatchable performance, and in part because the play is so easy to ruin by overplaying or underplaying the drama. The current production at MTC, under the direction of Jasson Minadakis, manages to avoid the disasters that so often happen with this very tricky play, and occasionally hits peaks of genius, mainly through the solidly sexy-slutty-crazy-classy performance of actress Carrie Paff (top left, above) as Blanche, the unstable Southern belle whose tentative grasp on reality is shaken when she visits her sister, Stella (Arwen Anderson), and Stella’s primal, impulsive husband, Stanley (Daniel May, physically tense and as watchful as a tiger).
In this production, Minadakis turns up the sexual chemistry between the actors, showing a lot more skin than most stagings of the play. As Mitch, Stanley’s mild-mannered poker buddy who develops an infatuation with Blanche, Gabriel Marin is also excellent.
In many ways, the star of this production is the set by Robert Mark Morgan, a wonder of dangling Spanish moss and multileveled rooms and staircases, all backed by swinging strips of muslin through which changing colors—and the occasional vision of a bathing Blanche—can be glimpsed. Minadakis’ visceral feeling for the sensuality of the material is stronger than his grasp of Blanche’s fragile sanity, and the final scenes in which she crosses the line into straightjacketland are less convincing than most of what comes before, despite Stella’s heartbreaking wails as her sister is lost to her forever.
A strong if not earth-shaking production, this Streetcar is recommended for anyone fond enough of the playwriting art to want to catch the show that changed the landscape of American theater.
A Streetcar Named Desire runs Tuesday&–Sunday though April 20. Tuesday and Thursday&–Saturday 8pm; Wednesday at 7:30pm; Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. Also April 19 at 2pm. April 13 at 6pm, LGBT reception. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. $20&–$50; Tuesday, pay what you can. 415.388.5208.
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