If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“Streetcar” Opens Yale Rep Season


The question of the day is: Can Alcide play Stanley? The packed houses for Yale Repertory Theatre’s season-opener, Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire”, are there to see if the magnetic werewolf from HBO’s over-the-top vampire series “True Blood”, the physically impressive Joe Manganiello, can pull off the iconic role of Stanley Kowalski, tight t-shirt and all. The good news is the actor fits the t-shirt very well indeed. As for the role, well that’s another story.

“Streetcar” is, of course, Williams’ seminal classic about faded southern belle Blanche Dubois (an effective, lovely Rene Augesen) who, under a cloud of suspicion, has left a teaching position to stay with her sister, Stella (Sarah Sokolovic, equally fine) and her brutish husband, Stanley. Over three tense acts the dynamic between Stanley and Blanche in a cramped New Orleans apartment is the crux to any successful production of this period masterpiece. Much of this “Streetcar” works well mainly due to the performances of Augesen and Sokolovic whose sisterly bond alternates between tenuous, touching and erratic. Their scenes together are the most real and moving in the play adding immeasurably to the tragedy of the drama’s final bittersweet moments.

As noted, Mr. Manganiello is a fine specimen though when he removes his shirt you may wonder where Stanley keeps his Soloflex (bodies didn’t look this good in 1947 – I don’t think abs weren’t discovered until 1978). The actor’s clean-cut and contemporary look seems all wrong for the role. Looking like he just stepped off the cover of GQ Magazine, this is the first “Streetcar” I can recall where Stanley could be labeled a metrosexual. Manganiello’s perfect hair, clean shaven face and tailored clothes don’t begin to suggest a Stanley often described in the play as “greasy” and “dirty”. His slacks have a perfect crease and even his bowling shirts seem pressed and pristine. More significantly, the actor doesn’t convey the animalistic nature of the role to full effect and it remains a very surface performance throughout. He would do well to listen carefully to Blanche’s act one monologue about his character’s “ape-like” and “sub-human” qualities.

Under Mark Rucker’s perfunctory direction the play lacks poetry and a specific sense of time and place. There is little in the setting to distinguish the locale as being New Orleans in the late 1940s. Redi Thompson’s baffling scenic design offers an unusually large two-room apartment with, apparently, no room for a stove. The meat that Stanley provides in his first scene is presumably eaten raw. A second level for the upstairs neighbors offers an occasional glimpse of feet and nothing more. In the production’s most jarring moment, the entire set moves a few feet stage right so we get a better view of the side staircase for Stanley’s famous “Stella!” scene. If the design were done correctly, though, no such adjustment would be necessary. Yale has always been at the forefront of regional theatres with their scenic designs, but they take a definite step backwards with this rendering.

Stephen Strawbridge, however, has done commendable work with the lighting and, except for Stanley’s bizarre fashion sense, Hunter Kaczorowski’s costuming is excellent especially the array of faded ball gowns and negligees he’s provided Blanche. Though far from an ideal production, I was still enthralled for all three hours of Williams’ exceptional American drama. Even lesser productions of “A Streetcar Named Desire” can’t dim its greatness.

 “A Streetcar Named Desire” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through October 12. For further information and ticket reservations call 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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