Six decades after its premiere, Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer-winning 1947 drama remains a lacerating portrait of the clash between disaffected social classes. The sizzling sexual tension in the play's key relationship, coupled with plot elements such as spousal abuse, rape, and pedophilia, were groundbreaking in the late 1940s, and they can still pack a powerful punch. Unfortunately, the debuting American Coast Theater Company's revival of this scorching classic lacks dramatic heat. The simmering passions and soaring poetry of Williams' masterpiece are in short supply in director Karen Lund's flaccid, by-the-numbers staging.
Self-deluded Blanche DuBois, a repressed Southern belle with a sordid past, grapples with the primal behavior of a crude but honest blue-collar Neanderthal man, her brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski. They wage a desperate battle for survival. To navigate Williams' artful blend of caustic humor and tragedy and to lucidly illuminate his profound subtext requires actors who can shift between subtlety and raw emotion.
As the doomed heroine Blanche and the chauvinistic Stanley, Susan K. Berkompas and Cameron Dye generate scant chemistry. Berkompas interprets Blanche's pretentiously florid speeches with an appropriate air of ludicrousness, but she doesn't move beyond superficial eccentricity to illuminate the desperation and despair behind the faรงade. Dye swaggers around the stage and postures as a sweaty, animalistic brute, but he seldom provides a hint as to why Blanche poses such a threat to his meager but fiercely guarded domain. These underdeveloped characterizations gloss over the intricacies of this relationship -- the crux of the play. Some actors fare a bit better. As Stanley's beleaguered but devoted wife, Stella, Marianne Savell provides a telling counterpoint to the character of her mentally unbalanced sister. Stella came from the same background as Blanche but has managed to successfully assimilate into the tenement culture. As Blanche's protective beau, Mitch, a middle-aged man still living with his mother, Paul Eggington provides moments of insight and humor.
The design elements are mostly capable, though Eggington's near-generic set gives little sense of a New Orleans tenement dwelling. One hopes this ambitious new company meets with greater success in future offerings.
Presented by the American Coast Theater Company at the Lyceum Theater,
Vanguard University, Costa Mesa.
Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m. Aug. 3-18.
(714) 619-6424. www.americancoasttheater.org.