Los Angeles Theater Review: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (Boston Court in Pasadena)

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by Tony Frankel on February 27, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


Since struggle for power among the classes is one of the main themes in Tennessee Williams’ still-shocking A Streetcar Named Desire, it makes perfect sense that director Michael Michetti would choose to update the Pulitzer Prize winner for modern times. A Southern Belle schoolteacher, Blanche DuBois, arrives in New Orleans needing the aegis of her sister and brutish brother-in-law, Stella and Stanley Kowalski, for relief from the loss of her childhood home and all the small-town secrets and gossip. Stella and Stanley already have a volatile relationship, but the cramped quarters and Blanche’s deceptions only serve to pour gas on the already existing flame. Over the course of one hot, sultry New Orleans summer, Blanche’s fragile facade slowly crumbles as she meets her match in the rough-hewn, working-class Stanley.

At Boston Court, 1949 becomes 2018, and the Big Easy becomes a multicultural stew – a logical conceit given that even in the ‘40s, every human shade and color could be found in the polyglot world of the French Quarter. It’s a dazzling idea to have Blanche – clothed in 1940s’ styles by Dominique Fawn Hill – be the only white person on stage, suggesting her difficulty relating to a world outside of her plantation upbringing.

This means there are choices that are out of sync with the script: Sitting in the corner of Efren Delgadillo, Jr.’s two-story metal-frame skeletal set — which has transparent plastic sheets for curtains – is a DJ (played by designer Sam Sewell, who is white) offering mostly modern music and sound effects, and from my vantage point, it looked like she was in Stella’s kitchen (the DJ is not in the production photos). A modern day torch singer (Paul Outlaw) has also been added, but when he walked around the theater singing just before curtain and asked if I had ever been to New Orleans, it felt like an unnecessary gesture of inclusion. And how curious that everybody smokes around Stella, knowing that she’s pregnant.

And only you can decide if one sister being white and the other black was a mistake: When Blanche yells to her sister that Stanley is an “ape,” how much more powerful would it have been had Stanley been black, as he is here, and Stella white? And what about all those references to Stanley being a “Polack”? Desean Kevin Terry and Maya Lynne Robinson are refreshingly subdued as Stanley and Stella, but it was acting choices like this which kept this production from crackling. And perhaps that’s why the powerful physical climax between Blanche and Stanley was flat (it also didn’t help that the bedroom was directly upstage of the kitchen and living room, which only served to diffuse the tension).

Still, there’s enough of interest to recommend a visit – regardless of the incongruities, I wasn’t bored for a second. At the center of this misguided but watchable three-hour effort is the not-to-be-missed performance of Jaimi Paige, whose nostalgia, vulnerability, and attractions make her fantasies appear real. With the complexity, the looks, and the gestures that powerfully and gradually take Blanche into a fantasy world toward insanity, Paige – an actress of outstanding depth — digs into the demanding role with playful, frightening self-destructiveness.

photos by Jeff Lorch

A Streetcar Named Desire
Boston Court Performing Arts Center
70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on March 25, 2018
EXTENDED to April 1, 2018
for tickets, call 626.683.6801 or visit Boston Court

{ 1 comment }

Fred T March 12, 2018 at 2:11 pm

Oh my… I kinda felt like it was an innovative university production who had hired a guest artist to play Blanche with all the undergrads. Ack! I’m hoping it was because I was there on a Thursday… maybe they sizzle and pop more on the weekend.

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