In his second season as artistic director of the Cleveland Play House, Michael Bloom is making his directorial debut at the theatre with Tennessee Williams' 1947 masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire. An iconic play, its innumerable interpretations and heightened expectations make it daunting to produce. Yet Bloom rises to the challenge, delivering a revival that does ample justice to the play's rich complexities.
Much has been made, for example, of the erotically charged relationship between the feral Stanley Kowalski and the neurotic nymphomaniac Blanche DuBois. These archetypal roles were indelibly defined on film by Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, setting a standard against which many subsequent Stanleys and Blanches have been measured. But don't expect to see smoldering sexuality between them in this production. What you will find instead is a relationship largely fueled by antagonism, jealousy, fear, and contempt, making the pivotal rape scene, a brutal act of revenge, even more chilling. It isn't desire that fuels their passion, but a tug-of-war between rivals for Stella's affection. And it works.
The production returns two talented Ohio actors to their roots: Award-winning Chicago actor Hollis Resnik, who plays Blanche, is a native of Euclid, near Cleveland, and Jason Paul Field, who portrays Stanley, hails from Akron.
Field's Stanley is sufficiently coarse and brutish. He also conveys the insecurity of a husband who feels threatened by Blanche's presence. This becomes apparent in the closing scene of Act I, when the unseen Stanley overhears Blanche describe him as apelike and subhuman to Stella. Michael Lincoln's striated lighting washes over Stanley's face, adding a monstrous quality to his grease-stained visage.
When Stanley emerges, Stella jumps into his arms while a stricken Blanche looks on. Stanley's malevolent leer of triumph speaks volumes. This is no dance of seduction between Blanche and Stanley, but a game of one-upmanship with Stella the prize. Kelly Mares' compassionate portrait of Stella, a woman torn between love for her husband and loyalty to her sister, is perfection, and the one that resonates the most.
With her slender frame, finely chiseled features, and nervous giggle, Resnik endows Blanche with the mothlike fragility and vulnerability of an emotionally disturbed woman seesawing between reality and fantasy. But her inconsistent, grating Southern drawl detracts from her performance. Lucas Caleb Rooney makes acutely real the contrast between the shy, socially awkward Mitch who courts Blanche and the violent, drunken Mitch who rejects her. And Starla Benford and Doug Jewell add comic relief as the feisty upstairs couple, Eunice and Steve. Making them African Americans underscores the ease with which blacks and whites lived side by side in New Orleans' French Quarter. It's a nice touch.
A Streetcar Named Desire runs Jan. 13-Feb. 5 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Tickets: (216) 795-7000, ext. 4. Website: www.clevelandplayhouse.com.