The new Seattle troupe Civic Rep is entering the scene with a staging of “A Streetcar Named Desire” that dispels any trace of romantic chimera and unctuous Dixie charm from the Tennessee Williams classic.
This is a “Streetcar” without caricature, or geographic context. And if the point is to boldly cut to the psychosexual quick, as we observe the tragic collision between desperate, damaged Southern belle Blanche DuBois and her ruthless brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski, director L. Zane Jones mostly achieves that in her thoughtful, briskly paced outing.
By the end, you feel the emotional whammy of this American masterwork. But there are dubious choices, mainly: making Stanley little more than a glowering brute. And divesting Blanche of her Southern accent.
At New City Theater, with a small audience narrowly seated within fingertips of the actors, the intimate proceedings on Angie Harrison’s spartan set are dominated by Robin Jones’ unsparing, haunting Blanche. Slender and fragile-looking, with a cap of tousled dark hair, she is fighting for her life.
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The ironically named Elysian Fields area of New Orleans, where her sister Stella and Stanley abide in contented semi-squalor, is undesired house guest Blanche’s last stop on a trolley hurtling from gentility to degradation to madness.
Tightly wound and imperious at first, Jones affectingly peels off the thinnest layers of emotional defense until there is no membrane left. Blanche’s compulsive drinking is emphasized, as she self-medicates her irreplaceable losses, of her family’s stately Mississippi homestead, Belle Reve. A long-ago husband who committed suicide. Poor-genteel relations she nursed in their decrepitude.
The final shreds of the tattered pride and vanity Blanche clings to are ultimately torn away by Stanley (her “executioner”), in a scene that leaves no doubt a brutal rape is being committed.
But if Marlon Brando’s mesmerizing, groundbreaking Stanley dominated the 1947 debut of “Streetcar,” David Nail’s portrayal is so simplistic it makes the fierce match between fading Southern gentility and proletarian vitality, vulnerable femininity and crude machismo much less interesting. (It’s like watching a truck barrel over a lady bug.)
Sam Read brings needed texture to the role of Mitch, the would-be suitor of Blanche who can’t transcend his own machismo to rescue her, while Kelli Mohrbacher is an overly matter-of-fact Stella, sans drawl.
But who is Blanche without her drawl? Her lost Belle Reve (“beautiful dream” in French) isn’t just a home but a state of mind, a corroded American myth. This production of “Streetcar,” absorbing as it can be, seems rather naked without her magnolia-scented cry in the wilderness.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org