They’ve taken the name Kowalski out of STREETCAR but the story remains the same for Belle Reve, the lost ancestral plantation co-owed by the manipulative, beyond her prime and close to breaking Blanche (a beautiful Nicole Ari Parker) and her pregnant younger sister Stella (Daphne Rubin-Vega – who appears to be the older sibling) in this newest multi racial revival of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning drama first produced in 1947. His beautiful, poetic and tragic play hasn’t aged at all.
But it has been given a new look by director Emily Mann casting non white actors in the primary roles. Set in Louisiana, this choice would seem a perfect fit and the dialogue appears to have been written specifically for these actors with some minor adjustments made to the script.
Adding some sultry, jazzy underscoring by Terence Blanchard adds to the concept. The naturalistic, claustrophobic set by Eugene Lee heightens the closeness that they all must share and the magenta infused lighting by Edward Pierce bathes the stage in a steamy hot glow.
Nicole Ari Parker gives a wonderful interpretation of Blanche, finding a wealth of humor as she races towards her destruction at the hands of the common, brutish and ape-like Stanley (the handsome Blair Underwood) who loves to play poker with his cronies, go bowling and beat up on his wife Stella who absolutely can’t keep her hands off of him. It’s obviously a hot relationship they share in their bed with just a curtain to divide the space from where Blanche sleeps.
Blanche arrives with lots of baggage – mostly in her mind. Fine dresses (Paul Tazewell) and accessories, a troubling past history, love letters, a gay husband who committed suicide and a belief that she is above the rest of the people that circumstances have forced her to accept, with difficulty. Instead she takes a series of hot baths in the suffocating heat that drives Stanley nuts and tests the strength of his kidneys.
The one person that Blanche feels a certain kinship to and pursues is Mitch (Wood Harris), a gentleman with a silver cigarette case who is caring for his ailing mother. But that relationship is ruined because of her lies. Although Ms. Parker gives a great performance it’s a little difficult to accept that she is a fading Southern Belle. She’s gorgeous but does manage to project that Whitney Houston dazed eye look and shaky manner due to her heavy drinking.
Of course, she too is attracted to Stanley even though she finds him crude which culminates in a graphic rape scene, her nervous breakdown and tragic end as they lead her away to an asylum.
The supporting cast is excellent with Amelia Campbell a standout as she puts up with her own brute of a husband, the excellent Matthew Saldivar. Oh how terribly those men treat their women who love putting up with them because of their sexual prowess. And Aaron Clifton Moten as the newsboy that Blanche attempts to seduce gets high marks for his short but memorable scene.
This color blind production of STREETCAR is powerful, explosive and deeply moving.
Limited 16 week engagement. At the Broadhurst Theatre.
www.streetcaronbroadway.com Photos: Ken Howard
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