By Wendy Carson and John Lyle Belden
With all of the winter weather we are having, it is satisfying to have Catalyst Repertory bring us a steamy trip to 1950s New Orleans with its imaginative production of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
The first clue to the uniqueness of the show is the inventive set design of Nick Kilgore. He has basically cut apart the walls and rooms of an apartment house to make them easily flow into each other without losing each location’s identity. The actors enter, exit, and perform within the full 360 degrees of set as well as multiple levels available to them. With the size of the stage, you might think this is incredibly cramped, but it never feels claustrophobic. In fact, the layout causes a rare intimacy to occur between the troupe and audience, seated “in the round,” which makes the whole a more enjoyable evening. A couple of pieces – a bedroom vanity, a nearby bar piano – even extend into the audience space naturally. The concessions bar for patrons at intermission is even part of the set, suggesting a piece of nearby Bourbon Street.
For those unfamiliar with the tale: Fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois (Sara Castillo Dandurand) turns up on the shabby doorstep of her younger sister, Stella (Anna Himes) and Stella’s husband Stanley Kowalski (Ian McCabe). Blanche lives in a world of delusion she consistently concocts to keep her from realizing that she is desperate, alone, old, and without any other place to go. After months of living with her disdain and lying, Stanley is determined to send her packing.
This description, of course, doesn’t do justice to the genius of Williams’ drama, and in the practiced hands of director Casey Ross – herself an artisan of plot and dialogue – narrative richness and tension as thick as Louisiana humidity imbues the play from start to finish.
Dandurand transforms into Blanche, wearing her pride like a fading flower, masking dysfunction with flirtatious charm so well it fools everyone – except Stanley. For his part, McCabe ably puts on Kowalski’s working-man swagger. He is devoted to Stella, but has issues (to put it mildly), complete with a low-simmering rage fed by a lifetime of being called a Pollack, among other things. Perhaps the fact he has to present a public mask helps him detect Blanche’s. The two circle each other throughout, like a pampered cat and a mangy dog, claws out, fangs in their smiles. Himes is also wonderful as a Stella who sees the good in Stanley, is eagerly the yin to his yang, and tries to be at peace with the fact her debutante days may be gone forever.
Making a stunning dramatic debut is Brian DeHeer as Mitch Mitchell, Stanley’s bowling and poker buddy who knew him since their WWII service together. Feeling lonely as he tends to his ailing mother, Mitch starts falling for Blanche – it won’t be a soft landing.
In excellent support are Audrey Stonerock and Matt Kraft as neighbors Eunice and Steve Hubbell, as well as Tom Alvarez as poker buddy Pablo, Mitchell Wray as a boy who comes around, and Viviana Quinones as a local flower-seller. Alvarez’s partner in Magic Thread Cabaret (a co-producer), Dustin Klein, tickles the ivories at the corner piano, with old tunes and his new compositions to underscore the action. At the club microphone is the exquisite voice of Courtney Wiggins. David Mosedale and Wendy Brown complete the cast, mainly in the final scene.
For either those new to “Streetcar,” or Williams fanatics looking for something fresh, we cannot recommend this production enough. There are adult themes and herbal cigarettes (though perhaps the first-ever Ross-directed play without an F-bomb), yet if you can take the heat, you won’t regret the experience of this scorching masterpiece.
Performances run Fridays through Sundays, through March 19 at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair, Indianapolis. For tickets, go to IndyFringe.org.