Williamstown Theatre Festival Releases “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Photograph 51” on Audible.com

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Reviews by Kitty Drexel

AUDIBLE.COM — In April, the Williamstown Theatre Festival announced that it was presenting its seven productions planned for its 2020 season in partnership with Audible, the Amazon streaming service. Below are reviews for A Streetcar Named Desire and Photograph 51.

Additional reviews of Animals by Stacy Osei-Kuffour and Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club by Shakina Nayfack will post next week.

Happy Streaming!

A Streetcar Named Desire
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Robert O’Hara
Assistant directed by Nicholas Polonio
Sound design by Lindsay Jones
Dialect coaching by Dawn-Elin Fraser and Deborah Hecht
Intimacy direction by Claire Warden

Featuring: Joel Reuben Ganz (Doctor), Joe Goldammer (Steve Hubbell), Carla Gugino (Stella Kowalski), Carmen M. Herlihy (Eunice Hubbell), Sullivan Jones (Harold Mitchell), Brian Lucas (Young Collector), Audra McDonald (Blanche DuBois), Stacey Raymond (Nurse), Cesar J. Rosado (Pablo Gonzales), and Ariel Shafir (Stanley Kowalski)

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for a play that first premiered on Broadway in 1947. We assume that readers will have a working knowledge of this Tennessee Williams classic.

This radio drama version of Streetcar requires a listener to engage with it. It’s not something to listen to while driving or finishing a project. The listener will miss out on the actors’ subtleties and new takes on this classic. Audra McDonald, Carla Gugino, and Ariel Shafir use their voices as instruments. They fill silence with artistic nuance. Doing anything more complicated than idle hobby work will take away from the experience of their performances.

The direction of Robert O’Hara with the sound design by Lindsay Jones turns Blanche’s mental breakdown at the end of the play into a full descent into madness. Jones has already indicated in the drama that Blanche isn’t experiencing the same reality as the other characters by subtly repeating sound effects such as cat meows and employing an echo effect. Blanche’s final dissociation from her physical surroundings via a plummet down a rabbithole of psychosis is expressed to us with unnerving animal calls, white noise and speaker-bouncing dialogue.

This is all to indicate that Blanche doesn’t break so much as she is purposefully broken by an indifferent world. Her madness scene lasts only minutes long but the entire play is edited and directed to create this one moment. In this reading, the results are worth the wait.

Claire Warden of Broadway and IDI fame is the intimacy director for this production. She was asked at a New York Theatre Workshop talk with Teniece Divya Johnson in May about whether one could attempt intimacy direction over Zoom. Understandably, she advised her audience against it at the time. Zoom theatre was too new and qualified intimacy directors hadn’t done the necessary investigations. It is good to see that Warden has brought her expertise to the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Audible. My hope is that more radio dramas and Zoom theatre pieces will utilize her research once it is ready for the world.

A Streetcar Named Desire is available for download beginning on Thursday, December 3 at 3:00am. The running time is approximately 2 hours 30 minutes.

A Streetcar Named Desire is available beginning Thursday, December 3 at 3:00am ET to Audible listeners around the globe. The running time is approximately 2 hours 30 minutes.

Photograph 51
Written by Anna Ziegler
Direction by Susan Stroman
Assistant direction by Maya Davis
Sound design by Darron L. West
Dialect coaching by Barbara Rubin

Featuring: Anna Chlumsky (Rosalind Franklin), David  Corenswet (James Watson), Tony Award nominee Stephen Kunken (Don Caspar), Obie Award  winner Aasif Mandvi (Francis Crick), Tony Award nominee Omar Metwally (Maurice Wilkins), and  Ben Rosenfield (Ray Gosling).

I reviewed the Nora Theatre Company’s production of Photograph 51. It is HERE. In rereading my review to write this one, I remember my great anger at the soul-crushingly overt sexism depicted in Anna Ziegler’s play. Not at Ziegler but at Rosalind Franklin’s (Anna Chlumsky) treatment at the hands of her male colleagues. Dr. Rosalind Franklin was the best scientist in the room and her cohorts didn’t take her seriously because they didn’t find her fuckable. Wilkins (Omar Metwally) resented her because she wasn’t his to fuck. This Audible recording brought all of those feelings back.

Synopsis from Audible.com: In 1951, chemist Rosalind Franklin works relentlessly in her King’s College London lab, closing in on a major discovery that could unlock the mysteries of the DNA molecule. Undermined by her colleague  Maurice Wilkins, she struggles to compete with rival team Watson and Crick as pressure intensifies to produce results.

I played Merge Dragons to this recording. I furiously combined flowers, rocks and eggs in threes and fives while listening to this drama about DNA science. I needed a distraction to keep me rooted in the slightly less patriarchal, moderately more egalitarian present so I didn’t light my laptop on fire.

Photograph 51 was performed by The Nora Theatre Company from March – April 2019. If you enjoyed that production, this recording brings a new perspective to the show. If you missed the Central Square production, this recording gives you an opportunity to experience the play and join in the dialogue started by the Cambridge production.

Photograph 51 is available beginning Thursday, December 10 at 3:00am ET to Audible listeners  around the globe. The running time is approximately 90 minutes.

The rest of WTF’s 2020 season on Audible includes the world premiere Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club written by and featuring Shakina Nayfack in December 2020, and Dominique Morisseau’s Paradise Blue. The world premiere musical Row with a book by Daniel Goldstein and music & lyrics by Dawn Landes, and Sanaz Toossi’s world premiere Wish You Were Here will be released in early 2021.

For over six decades, Williamstown Theatre Festival, recipient of the Tony Award® for Outstanding  Regional Theatre and the Commonwealth Award for Achievement, has brought emerging and  professional theatre artists together to create a thrilling summer festival of premiere work alongside  fresh, new productions of the western canon, accompanying cultural events including COMMUNITY  WORKS and Late- Night Cabarets, and readings and workshops of new plays. Under Artistic Director  Mandy Greenfield, WTF launched the Andrew Martin-Weber New Play and Musical Commissioning  Program, through which theatre artists, including Jocelyn Bioh, Nathan Alan Davis, Halley Feiffer,  Justin Levine, Matthew Lopez, Benjamin Scheuer, and many others, create new work supported by a  year-round play development program. WTF runs unmatched training programs for new generations  of theatre talent, and artists and productions shaped at WTF fill theatres in New York, London, and  around the country each season. Williamstown Theatre Festival’s productions of The Bridges of  Madison County, The Elephant Man, Fool for Love, Living on Love, and The Visit enjoyed critically  acclaimed runs on Broadway, with The Elephant Man and The Visit receiving Tony Award  nominations for Best Revival of a Play and Best Musical, respectively. WTF’s world premiere  productions of Cost of Living (winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), Actually, Paradise Blue,  and Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow played acclaimed Off-Broadway runs. In  the abbreviated 2019-20 theatrical season, Williamstown Theatre Festival was represented or  scheduled to be represented on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regionally by The Sound Inside and  Grand Horizons, both of which received Tony Award nominations for Best Play, The Rose TattooSeared, Selling Kabul, Unknown Soldier, and Lempicka.

Audible Theater makes outstanding performances and powerful storytelling available to millions of  people all over the world. It is an Amazon company.

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