It's hard to think of a character more central to theater's collective consciousness than Blanche Du Bois, the conflicted core of "A Streetcar Named Desire," itself an icon of American theater.
To mount a memorable production of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play takes some moxie and a whole lot of talent. The Star Bar Players - and director David Plambeck, a talented actor in his own right - take it on in a run through June 9, and largely, to great success.
On the surface, everything is pressed linen and feather boas in Blanche's (Alysabeth Clements Mosley) life. But the truth comes out when she arrives at sister Stella (Crystal Carter) and her husband Stanley's (Dylan Mosley) shabby New Orleans apartment in the French Quarter: Blanche has buried the last of their family, lost their precious estate Belle Reve as well as the gentile life the aging debutante was promised by birth. Her dreams have been dashed by life (and her own weakness) and in her desperation tries to re-create herself with dim lighting, prim manners and pretty lies about her less-than-perfect past.
And she might have a chance to start again if it weren't for Stanley, who sees his own dominion over the household threatened by Blanche and her history with Stella. He proves to be a brutal obstacle - not just to Blanche's happiness, but her sanity.
Clements Mosley, who musters a good Southern accent reminiscent, at times, of Vivian Leigh's in the 1951 film, makes for a powerful Blanche. At times she flutters like a bird battling the ceiling to return to the sky. At others, she is the picture of the schemer Blanche has been forced to become. But for all the fairy lights and gossamer dreams we've come to associate with the doomed belle, Clements Mosley endows her Blanche with an underpinning of strength and a fierce will to survive. A woman we might recognize from real life instead of a delicate glass figure like Laura in "The Glass Menagerie."
In many productions, Stanley and Blanche are pitted as equals. I like Plambeck's choice here: Stanley is a cog, albeit an important one, in Blanche's story. While Dylan Mosley has the Louisiana Everyman down cold, he fails to project the danger - physically, sexually - that Stanley requires to give the ending impact and believability.
Carter has a thankless job here as the linchpin in the struggle. She's solid, although lacking the sexual chemistry with Mosley to make that dynamic work.
Among the supporting characters, Mark Sullivan is quite memorable as Mitch, Stanley's mild-mannered poker buddy and Blanche's suitor. His accent quickly becomes his natural voice, in part because Sullivan commits himself completely to Mitch's journey from shy sweetness to betrayal to rage at Stanley's bestial treatment of Blanche.
Heather Clark's costumes and the set, which was created by Curt Layman, Jim Campbell, Michael Stansbery and Dylan Mosley, conjured the Southern blue collar class of 1940s, without overreaching into caricatures. Clark's costuming of Clements Mosley was spot on, although, at times, they were not as flattering as you'd expect Blanche to dress.
The only dull note in an otherwise enjoyable three-hour running time was the lighting, which for about half the show alternately flared or left the central action in near darkness. The lighting design, I learned, is more complicated than this wiring of the Theatre 'd Art's downtown space. It's unfortunate, because it is quite a distraction from Williams' world.
Finally, there's the smoking. I understand the desire for verisimilitude. After all, it's New Orleans in 1948. But, by the time it was over, I counted about 20 cigarettes lit and smoked in a room with little or no ventilation (did I mention it was pretty hot there after a hot day?). One in a scene (along with some electric cigarettes) would have made the point quite nicely without creating enough discomfort that I found myself thinking about the quality and quantity of the cigarettes instead of the drama in front of me.
"A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE"
Who: Star Bar Players
Playwright: Tennessee Williams
Directors: Stephanie Mathewson and David Plambeck
Cast: Alysabeth Clements Mosley, Crystal Carter, Dylan Mosley, Mark Sullivan
Running time: Three hours, including two intermissions
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays and 4 p.m. Sundays; Second Saturday Salon, with talkback and party after the show, is Saturday; runs through June 9
Where: Theatre 'd Art, 128 N. Nevada Ave.
Tickets: $15, $12 senior, military and veterans, $6 students at door only, pay what you can on Sunday; 357-5228, firstname.lastname@example.org, starbarplayers.org