McDaniel students take on challenge of performing 'Streetcar'

When Megan Smith began studying theater at McDaniel College, she finished her freshman year by performing a scene from "A Streetcar Named Desire" for her final project.

It didn't go well.


"It was a mess," Smith said. "My teacher said, 'Yeah, there's a lot you can improve on, but I gave you the scene because I think one day you can handle it.' And I've held onto that little nugget of wisdom and inspiration all these years."

Now, as she prepares to graduate, Smith gets another shot at the role of Blanche as part of her senior capstone theater project during McDaniel's new production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," running through Saturday.


The show, which was famously adapted into a film by Elia Kazan starring Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh and Kim Hunter, tells of an upper-class woman who moves in with her sister and brother-in-law in their run-down New Orleans apartment.

Smith said she first saw the movie long before she was old enough to appreciate it, but fell in love with the play after reading it in high school.

"I love how raw it is in many ways, and how unabashedly real it is in a lot of regards," Smith said. "When we were setting up our senior capstones, I sort of inception-ized the idea to Alex [Tolle] because I knew she would speak with the professors about it."

College Historian James Lightner presented on significant moments in McDaniel College's 150 year history.

Tolle, who plays the role of Stella, said has also been a fan of the show for years. She said it's incredible the way "Streetcar" has retained its timeliness and poignancy over the decades to remain a classic.

That classic status was a bit of a challenge, she said, because the cast feels a pressure to live up to the iconic versions of these characters as captured in the film.

"When the cast list came out, I had people yelling across the quad, 'Stellaaaaaa!' at me, and I would wave back 'Oh yes, that's me!' " Tolle said. "There is a pressure though, because it's so well-known. I didn't watch the film, because I didn't want to be influenced by it, but people's expectations are there for such a large role."

Director Gene Fouche said she approached the play with reverence, not wanting to mess too much with an established classic. When she first got the text, she said, she tried to adjust the blocking to leave her own stamp on the show, but quickly found that every piece of stage direction in the play was integral for the meaning and structure of the final piece.

With the decision to remain faithful to the text, her role shifted to creating the correct atmosphere on stage and guiding the actors to best inhabit their roles.

"It's a really difficult show for seasoned actors, so doing it in a college setting was a little intimidating," Fouche said. "They're honestly young, and don't have the life-experience that someone like Blanche would have. Despite all that, they're doing an excellent job with it."

To prepare for the show, the actors spent all summer researching the 1940s, New Orleans and the life of playwright Tennessee Williams. Bryan Bowen who plays Stanley had an additional task over the summer before hitting the stage, packing on 10 pounds of muscle.

"I worked hard to bulk up to be the biggest animal on stage," Bowen said. "I took it very seriously, because I know I'm going to go into the professional world soon."

Bowen said he spent 90 minutes to three hours a day, six-days-a-week over the summer at the gym, leaving enough time to eat protein, go to work and sleep. Despite the physical transformation, Bowen said the biggest challenge was entering Stanley's mindset.


"I'm very animated and friendly. I like to smile and laugh, but Stanley is very aloof, and aloof is a word that was tossed at me repeatedly," Bowen said. "I had to practice not making eye contact or looking at people I'm talking to. I get confidence; I get leadership, but he's literally like an animal."

If You Go

What: "A Streetcar Named Desire"

When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5, 6 and 7

Where: WMC Alumni Hall, McDaniel College, 2 College Hill, Westminster

Cost: $7 for adults, $5 seniors, students military and McDaniel College students and staff

For more information: Visit calendar.mcdaniel.edu or call 410-857-2448.


Recommended on Baltimore Sun