In the pantheon of great American playwrights, three names stand out: Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. And few would dispute the notion that, when assessing Williams' work, his masterpiece was "A Streetcar Named Desire," which won the Pulitzer Prize.
This tale of steamy passion and shattered dreams, set in New Orleans in the late 1940s, has been tackled over the years by a few of the more ambitious community and collegiate producing groups. In this, the 60th year since the movie version hit the big screen, it's currently being played out on the massive stage at Golden West College in a searing, emotionally involving production.
Director Tom Amen, who once played Stanley Kowalski in another college rendition, wrings the most from his capable student cast, and his affinity for the play is evident in every phase of the show. Sigrid Hammer Wolf's fragmented apartment and courtyard setting offers the ideal backdrop for the legendary drama.
Williams spun a haunting tale of Blanche DuBois, an emotionally shattered woman who, thrust out from her genteel upbringing, seeks refuge in the humble home of her sister Stella, who has adapted beautifully to a more raucous existence with her brutish, often violent, husband Stanley in the rough-and-tumble French Quarter.
Blanche, however, is not all that she seems and when Stanley ferrets out her purple past, the fur — and the dinner dishes — start flying. Golden West's riveting production offers a sterling cast in these familiar roles.
The nervous, nattering Blanche, feigning horror at her sister's "condition," is beautifully interpreted by Camille Lacey, who maintains her character's facade with dedication and zeal. Lacey flutters like a fish out of water in this unfamiliar atmosphere, modulating her emotional responses between her artificial panic in the play's early scenes and the actual extreme terror of its climax.
Lawrence Hemingway brings his strapping, no-nonsense character of Stanley to the forefront, the antithesis of Blanche's tender fantasies. The thrust-and-parry between them intensifies to a full-fledged confrontation in which Hemingway exerts a frightening authority.
There is a delicious quality of natural reality in the performance of Renee Curtis as Stella, who has long since accepted Stanley's way of life and is truly comfortable in it. In the famous "Stella!" rant by Stanley after a violent outburst, it is Curtis' soothing and sensual presence that brings calm and order to the scene.
Sean Coutu successfully brings a physically and emotionally awkwardness to his role as Mitch, Stanley's best friend and Blanche's suitor, that nicely underscores his uncomplicated character. His confrontation with Blanche late in the play could use a bit more fire and brimstone as a contrast to his earlier demeanor.
Atmospheric touches are neatly offered by Kim Brown and Alex Burger as the volatile, but loving upstairs neighbors. Rio Magdaleno, Mason Meskell, Nika D. Moore, Eric Davis and Laurie Reynolds complete the cast.
Scenic designer Wolf also created the fine lighting effects. Susan Thomas Babb's period costumes fit the bill splendidly, while Dave Mickey's sound design sets a haunting mood.
"A Streetcar Named Desire" remains among the truly great examples of American theater. The faithful and fervent interpretation at Golden West College stands as a mighty tribute to the genius of Tennessee Williams.
TOM TITUS covers the local theater scene for the Independent.
If You Go
What: "A Streetcar Named Desire"
Where: Golden West College Mainstage Theater, Huntington Beach
When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and at 2 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $12 - $10
Call: (714) 895-8150Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun