Category Archive for: ‘Harry Duke’

A Streetcar Named Desire (Healdsburg)

Whenever a local theatre company mounts a production of a classic play, comparisons are inevitable – comparisons to the original, comparisons to revivals, comparisons to film versions or television remakes. While an audience’s familiarity with a piece can be a good thing in bringing fans of a work into the theatre, it’s often a doubled-edged sword. Directors find themselves in a “damned-if-you-do/damned- if-you-don’t” situation. Those who present a strict interpretation are accused of “playing it safe” or of having no original vision. Those who tweak a classic are accused of dishonoring the playwright with theatrical blasphemy or “dumbing it down” to appeal to a modern audience. Carl Hamilton and the Raven Players take up the challenge with their production of Tennessee William’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”, currently playing at the Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg. So how do they do?

Pretty damn well, I think. While I do have a few quibbles (did you really expect me not to?), solid performances from the cast combined with an absolutely beautiful set and light design combine to create a production that should satisfy purists as well as engage those looking for a slightly different take.

Local theatrical veterans Bonnie Jean Shelton (Stella), Chris Schloemp (Stanley), and Rebecca Allington (Blanche) take on the main roles, with Matthew Proschold as Mitch. The standout performance for me was Ms. Shelton’s Stella Kowalski. Often overshadowed by the powerhouse that is Stanley and the impending train wreck that is Blanche, Shelton imbues the character with all the shadings of a human being in complex relationships with her husband, her sister, and herself.

Now here’s where the quibbling comes in. Solid work is done by all – and Proschold nicely plays against type as momma’s boy Mitch – but I couldn’t help but feel that Schloemp’s Stanley was a bit too refined and needed a touch more of the ‘common’ and ‘primitive’ for which the role calls. I also found myself wishing that Allington’s Blanche, the fragile fading flower, displayed hints of that fragility earlier on, in a way that the audience could better sense the slow build to the devastating conclusion. Like I said, minor quibbles and reservations.

What I have no reservations about is the terrific set and lighting design utilized in this production. Scenic Designer Darius Hamilton-Smith and Lighting Designer Robin DeLuca have combined their talents to create what I think is the most visually entrancing theatrical environment I have seen in a long time. It hits you as soon as you enter the auditorium and immediately envelopes you into its world. An extremely creative use of color and shadow also enhances this production, and Hamilton uses it to great effect in the opening scene and with the transitions between scenes. Sound design is also good, but I did feel bludgeoned by the overuse of Patsy Kline’s “Crazy” – a bit of an obvious choice of music.

For some reason, Hamilton sets the time as 1960 and the place as “A large American City.” Not quite sure why the change in time, but I suspect the change in place was to cover for the lack of southern accents. No need. I think audiences would be forgiving on this point, as William’s plays reek of the South and drip with humidity. Speaking of which, the oppressive heat is spoken of throughout this play, but I didn’t see any physical manifestation of it. I know from experience just how hot it can get under a bank of theatre lights. How the hell did everyone in this show stay so dry?

The double-edged sword of audience familiarity came into play during what I’ll call the “Stella!” scene. Who hasn’t been exposed to some version or another of this classic theatrical moment? No need for further explanation. I’m sure you know the scene to which I refer. This scene may be the most parodied in theatrical history, so you can never tell what to expect from an audience. Are they reacting to the scene? Are they reacting to “The Simpsons” version of the scene? Schloemp underplayed the scene – in my opinion, an excellent choice. Still, that didn’t stop audience members from giggling. However, Schloemp’s choice to underplay took away the cover the audience might have used to laugh louder, and effectively ruin the scene. Well done.

With just one more weekend of performances, time is running out for you to check out this extremely well done American Classic. You have three more opportunities – Friday, September 20th and Saturday, September 21st at 8pm and the 2pm matinee closing performance on Sunday, September 22nd.

A Streetcar Named Desire

Raven Performing Arts Center
115 North Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-6335