For a stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire to work, the character of Stanley Kowalski needs to be parts menacing; brutish, yet sensual; with a commanding, physical presence. Joe Manganiello has the requisite strapping, hulking appearance, but his Stanley comes across more as an occasionally unhappy husband. His threatening nature is faint, the aura of intimidation and danger muted. Add to the mix a more beleaguered, less reserved and self-conscious Stella Kowalski and the careful balance constructed by playwright Tennessee Williams tilts too heavily towards the third member of the central triumvirate, Blance DuBois, Stella’s troubled sister. The result is a ponderous production with very little emotional impact.
Streetcar begins with the unexpected arrival of Blanche DuBois to the small New Orleans apartment of her sister, Stella. We quickly learn of Blanche’s weak nerves, closet alcoholism, and sway over her sibling. She is a fading beauty constantly worrying about her looks and appearance. Stanley Kowalski, unsympathetic to Blanche’s plight tolerates her presence even as it upsets his balance of power and influence within the tiny household. As Blanche becomes more entwined in their lives a would-be suitor, Stanley’s friend Mitch, enters the picture. The tension and fragile détente between the four primary characters begins to disintegrate, as Blanche’s seamy, not-to-distant past becomes known. This sets up a dramatic break-up between the now overly distraught Blanche and Mitch as well as Stanley’s final confrontation with his sister-in-law. In the end, Blanche, an emotional and physical train wreck, suffers a full mental breakdown and is led off-stage by a kindly and benevolent doctor.
The central problem with the Yale Rep’s production is the portrayal of the main characters, something Director Mark Rucker should have addressed. Joe Manganiello’s Stanley Kowalski, as stated previously, does not appear to be so threatening or dangerous. Sarah Sokolovic, as Stella, seems far too domesticated. Rene Augesen’s Blanche can be pitying, bullying, and self-centered, but there is no underlying fraility that allows for a more penetrating and nuanced performance. Only Adam O’Bryne’s Mitch, a lamentable lug, longing for female companionship to offset his sorrowful life, gives a fulfilling interpretation.
Director Mark Rucker also misses the mark for the overall tone of the production, setting up an unsatisfying and laborious denouement.
Steven Brush’s soulful and haunting jazz inflected musical interludes deserve mentioning. They were the one component of the show that moodily suggested the urban despair of 1940’s New Orleans.
A Streetcar Named Desire, now playing at Yale Rep in New Haven through Saturday, October 12th.