Sunday, October 13, 2013

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: A Streetcar Named Desire

For many years my response to the common conversation-starting question of what I would do if I had a time machine has been that I'd go back to 1948 and see Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Barrymore Theatre in New York. I'm sticking with that, but on the way back I think I'll drop in again on this year's marvelous Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Streetcar, directed by Christopher Liam Moore and featuring Kate Mulligan as Blanche, Danforth Comins as Stanley, and Nell Geisslinger as Stella.

We all know how this Tennessee Williams story is going to turn out for Blanche, and so for her it's not the destination of the streetcar that matters so much as the journey. Mulligan and Moore have crafted a marvelous character who knows she's in a bad part of town, but keeps fighting with all she's got trying to cross back to a better side of the tracks. What she's got isn't enough, of course, but Mulligan plays Blanche with a great deal of depth and subtlety in a performance that was a pleasure to watch.

Kate Mulligan as Blanche and Danforth Comins as Stanley
in Oregon Shakespeare Company's production of A
Streetcar Named Desire
. OSF photo.
As much as this is Blanche's play--we've often seen the role referred to as the King Lear for women--it always seems to be Brando who is lurking about the set somewhere, listening in and occasionally bellowing, "Ha!" Comins makes us forget about Brando for three hours and plays Stanley in a way that makes him almost likable on occasion. He's still a big ape with a hot temper, but he's also smart and occasionally tender. There are some great moments of real connection between him and Blanche before he brutally brings down her house of cards.

There were almost visible sparks between Comins and Geisslinger, whose Stella was tired and knocked up and had her loony sister living with her in their tiny French Quarter apartment. She was also still incredibly hot for Stanley; she goes to watch him bowl, after all! Stella is not taking any crap from either of her roomies, though she accepts and cares for both despite their flaws.

The supporting cast was grand as well, with special props to Jeffrey King, who played Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, who nearly woos Blanche. Revelations about her past chase him away, but you know he regrets it. We also know that he believes what Stanley did, but still can't tear himself away from the poker game.

This year's lineup really showed us how deep OSF's company of actors is. Comins has had some great roles over the years, such as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (another Williams classic also directed by Moore), and the title role in Coriolanus. He didn't disappoint here. It was a hell of a year for Geisslinger, who was great as Kate in The Taming of the Shrew and scored as Stella, too. I most remember Mulligan as a hilarious Beatrice in Servant of Two Masters, but she's had some nice roles such as Karen Weston in August: Osage County and Mae in Cat. She totally rocked as Blanche in a memorable performance.

After the show my Sweetie, the Official Scorer, and I talked about writing a sequel: Streetcar II. We decided against it because there would be no story. Stella and Stanley are mad for each other and will put this little incident behind them.

You don't need a time machine just yet to catch this Streetcar. It plays at OSF through Nov. 2.

1 comment:

Sweetie the Official Scorer said...

The W and I were talking about this days later and realized there really is a comparison between King Lear and Blanche. Especially in Winters' sensitive portrayal of Lear, and Mulligan's outstanding portrayal of Blanche. Both characters are just barely holding it together, until a deliberate act of cruelty pushes them beyond any return.