A Streetcar Named Desire

By David A. Rosenberg

Ghosts. Needing to be expunged, they haunt the dutiful revival of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Yale Rep. Blanche DuBois, wavering between life-saving bookishness and death-wish lust, is crippled by a past of her own making. Having been fired from her position as a schoolteacher in small-town Mississippi for whoring at a local hotel and getting too familiar with a student, she seeks refuge with her sister Stella in cosmopolitan New Orleans.

Welcomed at first, she’s eventually soundly rejected by Stella’s brutish husband, Stanley Kowalski. A woman of refinement thrust into an animalistic world of elementary, open emotions, Blanche’s lies and pretensions lead to tragedy, generously abetted by Stanley.

At Yale, the 1947 work, which stands at the pinnacle of American drama, has been whittled down to a sad but not desperate romance. Director Mark Rucker opts for realism, gussied up with interludes of ham-fisted “poetry,” like the vision of Blanche’s fatal mistake with her deceased husband.

As Blanche, Rene Augesen smiles a lot to cover up her hurts. Fluttery, busy, self-contained, she’s giving a well thought-out performance, though lacking a sense of spontaneity and depth.

As Stanley, Joe Manganiello seems bent on erasing any trace of Marlon Brando, who created the role. Big and imposing, Manganiello underplays, nowhere more so than in one of Stanley’s signature lines: “We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning.” The rape scene, a climactic moment, is handled here with little terror.

Sarah Sokolovic’s Stella is filled with nuance, from the sexual stirrings she feels for Stanley, to the love and exasperation she feels for Blanche. As Mitch, Adam O’Byrne captures the character’s awkwardness, his clumsy attempts at dancing, his fury after he finds out about Blanche’s past.

The evening’s shortcomings aren’t helped by Reid Thompson’s blundering set, a humongous rendering of the Kowalski home that, at one point, ludicrously inches its way stage right to reveal a staircase scene. Atmospherically, there’s not much here to suggest the bluesy moods of the French Quarter.

“I don’t tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth,” says Blanche DuBois. Fact vs. illusion -- an essential American theme -- meld into poetic truth in this great American play.

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