By Ashley Ramsey
Tennessee Williams once said, “What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.” And there may be no better example of those curving roads then his play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Streetcar tells the story of Stella and Stanley Kowalski whose lives are turned upside down by a visit from Stella’s sister, Blanche DuBois. Blanche, who has been in charge of the family estate, reveals that it has now been lost. As Blanche’s tales of back home begin to unravel, so does Blanche’s mental state. Escalated by the unfamiliar and strangeness of the New Orleans French Quarter, Stella’s overbearing husband Stanley, and a string of cleverly-crafted lies, Blanche desperately tries to cling to the sanity that slowly slips from her grasp.
Streetcar has found its way into American culture (Thank you Marlon Brando…Stella….STELLA!”) and is a story familiar to many. Forget what you know, because director Mark Fossen has created a one of a kind, standalone staging of Streetcar. Part of The Grand Theatre’s American Classic series, this familiar story is given new life through creative staging, lights, music, and a brilliantly casted ensemble. From the moment you enter the theatre, you are swept into the noisy and lively streets of New Orleans. The two-story set by Halee Rasmussen is lovely and captures the feel of a young couple starting out. Oftentimes throughout the show, we are given glances into the private moments of the characters’ lives through the use of silhouettes. Rasmussen collaborated with Lighting Designer Spencer Brown to produce a seamless and effective method of storytelling. Brown’s lighting design tells a haunting story on its own and is well worth the cost of a ticket.
It is once in a great while that a truly brilliant ensemble piece is featured on Utah stages, but this is one of those pieces. Each character is thoroughly and carefully crafted with such realism that oftentimes the audience feels as though it has stumbled into somewhere they should not be. Private lives on display for your voyeuristic viewing pleasure. April Fossen’s portrayal of Blanche doesn’t stop from the moment she enters the stage. Her energy seems to burst off the stage and almost smother you as she pulls you into her world. Keeping pace right along with her is Anne Louise Brings’ Stella. Brings has layered Stella in such beautiful way as you watch this new bride and soon-to-be mother try to balance all that she loves in her life. Brings does a beautiful job in connecting with those she shares the stage with. Her portrayal of love becomes almost tangible with her onstage husband, Stanley, played by Robert Scott Smith. I have never loved and hated a character as much as I did Smith’s Stanley. He pinged back and forth, the only source of sanity on the stage and other times the instigator of the insanity. When watching other productions, I could never understand why Stella goes back, but in this production, I did. Smith takes you a devastatingly emotional journey as you watch a man come to grips with the chaos his young family has suddenly been thrown into. The ultimate protector, at the end of the show you find yourself still thinking maybe, just maybe Stanley is the good guy. And possibly insanity is contagious and really no one can judge a single person on that stage for what has happened, for they have all gone mad.
Other noteworthy and beautiful performances are Lonzo Liggins’ Harold Mitchell (Mitch) and upstairs neighbors Vicki Pugmie and Andrew Maizner as Eunice and Steve Hubbell. The entire cast should be praised on such raw and beautiful work. While many cast members assume the smaller roles within the production, they are a part of the many storytelling techniques used by the director which make the show what it is.
Mark Fossen’s brilliant concept engulfs you into a world you cannot escape, but one that you don’t want to. It is important to note that you will find no sugarcoating of the difficult and adult themes of the show. Instead, Fossen challenges you to face them head on and get out of yourself. I could talk about it forever, but to say much more would deny you the experience of what this cast and crew have created. I find myself mentally wandering through the curvy mountainous roads of this production over and over since I went to see it. It is rare that productions like this surface. The Grand’s latest production is one of the best pieces of theatre I have ever seen. I have lived in London and LA, traveled to New York, but rarely does theatre speak to me on the level that this show did. With any production there are always the little things to nitpick, but what they are doing with this show far outweighs any need for that. I hope you will let them take you on this journey.
A Streetcar Named Desire plays now through April 1st at The Grand Theatre with shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays with curtain at 7:30 pm and two 2 pm matinees on March 25th and April 1st. Tickets start at $16 for regular admission and $14 for Seniors.
The Grand Theatre 1575 State St, Salt Lake City, UT 84115
Phone: (801) 957-3322