Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review: A Reconstruction Named Desire

Arguably one of the most iconic of the Tennessee Williams canon of plays is A Streetcar Named Desire, a play rich with character, emotion, and some of the most recycled quotes in literature. One of the greatest challenges theater makers have these days is doing something fresh and new with the piece (ie the recent Streetcar wreck on Broadway). The folks at Less Than Rent decided to tackle the mammoth play in adaptation style in Desire! [A Varsouviana], written in tag team form by Rachel Buethe, Patrick Fleury, and James Presson.
This play takes a clever approach by allowing us to see the formation of a play through the eyes of a playwright. The playwright’s name in Desire! is Tom. Anyone who does their theater homework knows that Tom is the given name of Tennessee Williams. So we’re watching Mr. Williams create A Streetcar Named Desire. The only problem is this playwright is able to see way into the future because the characters he projects via for us via fever dream are stuck in a modern day party scene in Yankee country. As the play progresses, Desire! becomes a dramaturgical nightmare. Gone are the Southern influences and accents that make Williams’ original characters so recognizable and necessary to the New Orleans set source material. Gone are many of the plot points that make Stella and Mitch important characters, forcing them to only appear when it suits fit for the main characters. Desire! is really two plays mashed into one; an abridged cut-and-paste Streetcar and an insight to the struggles of Williams’ life. While the two don’t mesh well together, individually, they both are clever and interesting.
photo courtesy of Hunter Canning
To begin, the updated party version of Streetcar has some sharp choices that make some of the characters fresh. Rachel Buethe as Blanche, clad in colorful wigs and outrageous dresses, brings a to-the-point approach to the otherwise fragile belle. Perhaps it’s the fascinating deadpan delivery and wardrobe, but it’s easy to predict Blanche’s nuthouse destination. Buethe’s Blanche is able to go toe to toe with Patrick Fleury’s authentic Stanley, something not always present in other versions. Fleury exudes familiarity to his new age Stanley. Both Buethe and Fleury had the bulk the stage time and wasted none of it. One of the defining moments was the climatic showdown between Blanche and Stanley. Director Jenna Grossano brilliantly adds a fresh take on the altercation with the aid of Megan Land’s strobe lights. Buethe and Fleury were able to recite the classic lines their characters own from the source material and do them justice. Fleury’s belted “Stellaaaa” had heart and soul inside of it. Grossano and choreographer Jennifer Delac’s dance club transitions helped set the mood of the environment they wanted to evoke. There were some lost souls in this world though. Nicole Ventura’s Stella was strong and Cory Asinofsky’s Mitch was likeable despite their abridged appearances. Bianca Crudo’s bizarrely crude and yelly take on Eunice did little to make her character have the importance it does in William’s original script. The evening had an innovative idea by allowing the party world to have their own personal DJ, Dan Geggatt. It was a cool touch within that world, but perhaps due to space restrictions, he also seemed present in Tom’s world. Ducking behind the DJ table during those scenes may have been helpful as to not pull focus, especially during some of the richly emotional scenes.
As far as the second play that makes up Desire!  James Presson’s take on Tom, or Tennessee Williams, was emo-maniacal as he floated in and out of the two worlds. Again, Grossano was able to show her expertise in staging placing Presson into the play world and allowing us insight on the creation of the play. We saw Williams through the words his characters were saying. Discovery to say the least. The only odd decision was casting a woman to play the role of Allen, Tom’s lover. By losing the man and man relationship on stage spoiled a key aspect of Williams’ life. Sure, we can pretend and use our imagination, but the bold decision was not supported textually.
Desire! was a very ambitious undertaking by a quickly rising theater company. What the piece lacks in Southern flair, it makes up for in innovation and courage.

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