When a Cigar is Everything: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

presented by Wax Wings Productions
by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Vicki Schairer

@ the Factory Theatre
Boston, MA
June 27th – July 7th, 2013
Wax Wings Facebook Page

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Boston) Over time, A Streetcar Named Desire has become like that favorite album you skip over in shuffle to keep special. Oft quoted but performed less and less, it sits on the shelf of American theatre and gathers dust and pious weight until some community theatre takes it down and puts on an ill-advised, chest-beating version down in a church basement. That’s partly because it can seem such a dated portrait of overt sexual politics, something that would fit Michelle Bachman’s view of marriage and gay cures, perhaps, but with little relevance in a blue state.

Wax Wings’s brave staging of this play now playing at the Factory Theatre succeeds because it doesn’t try to patch up or update the sparse and bleak view of Tennessee Williams’ tense drama of sexual politics. It’s unrepentant in its thesis that a cock, employed in heterosexual conquest of the world, is all one needs to rule. Any attempt to betray that central tenant of existence, according to Williams, is akin to intellectual and physical suicide. By keeping that idea as the North Star for all the action on stage and refusing to fill in this sexual parable with more inner life than necessary, Wax Wings kicks the dust off this script and hones Williams’ story into a diamond-sharp instrument that can pierce flimsy façades of gentility and spark needed conversation.

It’s a testament to Williams’ writing that this play can wring so much out of an event of everyday existence. An unstable older sister, Blanche Dubois (Danielle Kellerman), comes to visit the tiny New Orleans apartment of a young married couple, Stella and Stanley Kowalski (Jacqui Dupre and Jesse Wood). A woman almost entirely made of artifice, Blanche is running from her past, but there’s nowhere to run from Stanley’s sexual domination of the household.

The women in this play are magnificent. Kellerman toys with the audience with her portrayal of Blanche, introducing her as a shallow and obnoxious veneer of a woman and then pulling us slowly into Blanche’s desperation. Dupre matches Kellerman, creating a Stella with a strong inner core who throws everything away for lust. Dupre owns the unexpectedly best moments on the stage as Stella tames Stanley with the merest look or word, or gives in and sinks into an apish brutishness. The duo outshines the functional male cast, who are almost like an echo of masculinity rather than its embodiment. (One hopes as the production continues that Wood can throw away his ample charisma and obvious stage politeness to bring out more of the animal magnetism and danger of Stanley. At one point, the actor was careful not to trample on Blanche’s clothes as Stanley was rifling through them.)

The set, by stage designer Megan Kinneen, is a cornerstone of this strong production. It texturally creates the Kowlaskis’ steamy and seedy apartment bit by bit and artfully blurs the line between the apartment’s boundaries and the street, and then the street and the audience. This design makes the action uncomfortably familiar and close, and I found myself wanting to shrink back or look away at the sexual power play unfolding voyeuristically before my eyes.

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