Theater Review: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles)

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by Joan Alperin on May 29, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


When I was thirteen I discovered Tennessee Williams when I picked up his play A Streetcar Named Desire at the New York Public Library. I don’t know if I fully understood it at that age, but there was one line that not only stayed with me my whole life, but is the most profound piece of dialogue ever written in a play: “Sometimes — there’s God — so quickly.”

Blanche Dubois utters that line after she is kissed by Mitch, the man she thinks will rescue the erstwhile Southern Belle from a crumbling past and destitute future. We’ve all felt that feeling at one time in our life but no one except the great Tennessee has expressed it so powerfully, so simply and so beautifully.

Williams may have written his 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece for Tallulah Bankhead — who would eventually play Blanche in a 1956 New York City Center — but the role is so multi-layered and raw that it has attracted the greatest actresses of the last 60 years (my favorite being Jessica Lange.) During that time, Streetcar has lost none of its relevance. This brutal examination of class and women’s conscripted roles in society has brought us other characters who have earned their place in theatrical history: Blanche’s sweet, shy sister Stella; the brutal, sexy, uncivilized brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (a role made famous by Marlon Brando), and Mitch, Stanley’s poker-playing buddy who Blanche hopes will be her savior.

But one misstep producing this complex full-evening play, and it can go from being a poetic, passionate, sensual, sexual experience to an over-the-top campy mess. Luckily, director Jack Heller and his top-notch cast — which includes a stunning Susan Priver as Blanche — make this guest production at the Odyssey one which would make Mr. Williams proud, and rightfully elucidates why this is his greatest work.

The characters are multifarious but the story is simple. Blanche DuBois has lost everything associated with her plantation upbringing except her façade of gentility. She comes to stay with Stella and Stanley in their dilapidated two-room apartment in New Orleans, and instantly disdains Stanley (the creditable Max E. Williams) — she cannot believe that her sweet, shy sister has married such a beast of a man. (With the wonderful Melissa Sullivan portraying Stella, you can feel the heat coming off her body every time Stanley walks into the room.)

As the weeks goes on, Blanche tries desperately to hold onto her last shred of refinement and sanity. When she meets Mitch (a compelling Christopher Parker), who lives with his ailing mother, it’s obvious that he has never met anyone quite like her — but she takes every opportunity to toy with his lack of intelligence and sophistication.

The supporting cast — Caroline Simone O’Brien and Alejandro Bravo as upstairs neighbors Eunice and Steve; Juan Sucre as another poker pal, Pablo; Sean Rose as young collector for the newspaper; and Nadejda Klein and Kevin Ragsdale as a nurse and doctor — all make the most of their smaller but significant roles.

No matter how many times you’ve seen Streetcar, this production is definitely worth a visit.

photos by Michael Lamont

A Streetcar Named Desire
Dance On Productions
Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd in West L.A.
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on July 7, 2019
for tickets, call 310.477.2055 or visit Odyssey

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jack Heller November 5, 2019 at 10:39 am

Thanks for the lovely review. I was hospitalized twice during rehearsals — missing three — but the audiences seemed to be moved … and that’s enough for me.

Thanks again ~

Jack Heller, director


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