Woy Woy Little Theatre’s second play of their 2014 season is the Pulitzer prize winning drama, A Streetcar Named Desire, by renowned playwright, Tennessee Williams (1911-1983). Williams penned a number of American stage classics, such as The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer, that were also produced as hit movies. Streetcar was one of his most successful, opening on Broadway in 1947 and running for two years, with Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy in the lead roles, before moving to London under Sir Laurence Olivier’s direction and starring Vivien Leigh. The 1949 Hollywood movie launched Marlon Brando to film stardom.*
The play is set in a seedy neighbourhood in the French quarter of New Orleans, in the home of Stella and Stanley Kowalski. It is a marriage of opposites: she is a former Southern Belle, he is a blue collar worker from a Polish immigrant family, and their tempestuous relationship is based mainly on sexual chemistry. The action begins when Stella’s sister, aging beauty Blanche DuBois, comes to stay for an indefinite period. She confesses their ancestral home in Mississippi has been lost to mortgage foreclosure, and claims to be on extended leave from her teaching job due to bad nerves. Blanche presents herself as a refined lady but soon reveals alcoholic tendencies. It becomes apparent that she is a woman with a tragic past and a flimsy grip on the present, living in a fantasy world of rich suitors and clinging to her well-to-do roots. The drama develops from the friction between Blanche and Stanley, an acquisitive, brutally realist and ruthlessly pragmatic man who is impatient with Blanche’s neuroses and resents what he sees as her fancy pretensions. The tension mounts when Blanche takes up with his friend, Mitch, who is attracted to her ethereal qualities. Distrustful of her account of herself, Stanley digs into her past and unearths secrets of her life in Laurel.
Williams defies traditional expectations of plot and story arc and it is impossible to predict in the early stages how the play will unfold. It is a tense and claustrophobic piece that concentrates on painting rich, complex characters and exploring their interpersonal dynamics. The audience is inexorably drawn into the human drama, and by the time we reach the powerful and shocking climax we discover we have been moved to strong feelings, for and about these characters, that may range from pity to contempt.
WWLT’s production successfully captures the atmosphere of the play, beginning with an ingenious set (designed by Christine Vale and Nigel Stanley and built with the help of Kincumber Men’s Shed). Lovingly constructed and dressed with an attention to detail that immediately evokes the play’s New Orleans setting, it represents just two rooms of the Kowalski dwelling and an adjacent stairwell, but thoughtfully arranged so as to conjure a vivid sense of the whole neighbourhood and its socio-economic standing. Good use of lighting and sound add texture and reinforce mood and tone. From the moment the play begins you can feel the oppressive Louisiana heat.
The success of this play hinges on the performances and this production benefits from a cast of highly capable and talented performers. Stanley is played by award winning actor, Xavier Ryan, a newcomer to the Central Coast but with 20 years of theatrical experience in Melbourne. Kellie Martin, an accomplished actress who has appeared in many Central Coast productions, is making her debut performance on the Peninsula stage. WWLT stalwart, Christine Vale gives a moving performance as Blanche with solid support from, husband, Graham as her suitor, Mitch. The leads are all excellent in their roles, but the supporting actors play their parts with no less skill and conviction. Woy Woy regulars Jessica Alex and Sierra Phillips continue to demonstrate their worth, while newcomers Robert Cottam, Keith Conway and Connor Sheridan all make promising WWLT debuts in the minor roles.
A Streetcar Named Desire closes June 1st and performances are already selling out. To book your ticket, visit the WWLT website at http://www.woywoylt.com.au
* biographical detail mainly drawn from wikipedia, images courtesy of WWLT publicity. Please click on images to view full size.