REVIEW: “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams — Stage Door Repertory Theatre

"Ground-Breaking Performances Mixed with Tragic Heartbreak"

Tennessee Williams' poetic “A Streetcar Named Desire” stands near the pinnacle of great American plays. Its long-awaited production from Stage Door Repertory Theatre (delayed last year due to the Covid surge) is powered by an insightful, passionate performance by the play’s main focal point: Selena Browning (“Bright Star”), as the faded and failing Blanche DuBois. For all her pretense, manipulation and debauchery, there remains in Ms. Browning’s Blanche a transcending, tenacious, childlike innocence and decency, which is heartbreaking at the play’s climax.

Mr. Williams has placed “A Streetcar Named Desire” in the Vieux Carré in New Orleans, where it seems there is or was just such a car, as well as one labelled “Cemetery,” as well as a neighborhood known as the Elysian Fields. The set represents the ratty, two-room apartment occupied by the beer swilling, brutish Stanley Kowalski (Ben Green; “Barefoot in the Park”), a broad-chested young Pole with animal magnetism, somehow cryptically connected to the automobile business, and his compliant, pregnant, highly sexed bride, Stella (Lindsey Eubanks; “Urinetown”).

One spring morning, Stella’s older sister, Blanche, turns up at this hovel with a steamer trunk which seems to contain all of her possessions. She is a strange girl, but at first there is nothing visibly wrong with her except a slight hysteria, which she tries to fight down with frequent surreptitious drinks of whiskey. The condescending Blanche, who parades about with the airs of a genteel Southern belle, is fashionably appalled by the squalor of the Kowalski apartment and the goings on in it, which include an incredibly seedy, brawling poker game, but this is nothing compared with the dismay she experiences at her first sight of her vulgarian brother-in-law.

This is understandable, since Stanley’s character emerges as illiterate, dirty and violent. In addition to the personal disgust he inspires in her, Blanche is slowly forced to realize that her desperate pretending and coquettish charm is no good with him. And when she seems to be infecting her sister with her stylish ways, he drags it out into the light, with contemptuous brutality.

Then, to Blanche’s horror, an upset, drunken Stanley assaults his wife Stella one night, after a losing poker game with his friends. Even more appalling to her, is Stella’s commiseration to Stanley. After hearing Blanche say that he is subhuman, a primitive ape, an animal, Stanley sets out with "deliberate cruelty" to destroy her.

By now, even those totally unfamiliar with “A Streetcar Named Desire” will be aware that Blanche had fallen far and hard prior to coming to New Orleans. After uncovering the pathetic truth about Blanche, Stanley will expose her behavior to his friend Mitch, who had hopes of courting her with marital intent. Then, while Stella is in the hospital waiting to give birth to her first child, Stanley brutally rapes Blanche, destroying what remains of her sanity.

You could make a good case that no character role has had more influence on modern acting styles than Stanley Kowalski, Williams' rough, smelly, sexually charged anti-hero. As he stalks through his little apartment in the French Quarter, he is, as the dialogue often reminds us, like an animal. He wears an old T-shirt that reveals muscles and sweat. He smokes and drinks hard, but at the same time, there is a feline grace in his movements. He's