Sunday, September 11, 2016


Jewel Theatre Company on-track with season opener 'Streetcar Named Desire'

These days, Tennessee Williams' groundbreaking drama, A Streetcar Named Desire could seem as quaint and mannered as the fading, delusional Southern belle at its center.

But the old girl holds up surprisingly well in the smart new production of Streetcar that launches the twelfth season of Jewel Theatre Company.

First produced onstage in 1947, the play was controversial for daring to whisper (obliquely) about taboo subjects like homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, and rape. It examines the erosion of Southern gentility, in the hothouse flower that is Blanche DuBois, exposed in the merciless glare of the postwar modern world represented by her rough-hewn working-class brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.

But Williams knew that the perceived elegance of the Old South — built on generations of slavery and repression — was as much an illusion as Blanche's fragile image of herself as a genteel lady.

Schindele and James: culture clash
These are no longer considered scandalous, or particularly new ideas. But director Susan Myer Silton sets them up vividly in her JTC production. The story is set in the French quarter of New Orleans, and one of Silton's coolest innovations is to place a three-man jazz combo on a wrought-iron balcony overlooking the stage; they play the actors in and out of scenes, subtly punctuating the action, but never overwhelming it.

Stanley Kowalski is played by Brent Schindele, previously seen in a dinner jacket, tinkling the ivories as the lounge pianist in JTC's delightful film noir musical, Gunmetal Blues. His performance here is a pretty nifty about-face. Erika Schindele (she and Brent are married in real life) plays his wife, Stella, with strength and compassion. The Kowalskis  enjoy a strong physical, if sometimes volatile, relationship.

Stanley and Stella: volatile
But their marriage is strained when Stella's older sister, Blanche (Julie James), arrives. A spinsterish onetime high school English teacher, Blanche spins a tale of woe about how the family home (a Mississippi plantation called Belle Reve), has been "lost," as the elder generation died out.

Alternately reproaching Stella for "abandoning" the family that Blanche had to care for, and buttering her up as her "precious baby sister," Blanche has nowhere to go, and her travel plans are indefinite.

Blanche deplores what she considers the Kowalski's miserable living conditions in their two-room apartment, and finds Stanley crude and common. Stanley suspects her of cheating Stella out of the family inheritance; he loathes her superior attitude, her interference in his marriage, and her pretense to gentility, which he considers a phony act.

And the clash of wills between them only intensifies. (Read more)

All photos ©2016 Steve DiBartolomeo-Westside Studio Images

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