The witching hour

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  September 18, 2007

The New Rep revival of Streetcar is really very good, with a period feel, able acting, and the right sense of enervation punctuated by explosion. Set designer Janie E. Howland’s squalid two-room apartment sandwiched into a nest of neon signs, a John Malinowski lighting design that splashes the characters’ interaction with rhythmic blinks of red, and Haddon Kime’s sound design of raw jazz mixed into city noise all add to a sense of carnal, quarrelsome private lives lived in public. Costume designer Frances Nelson McSherry has come up with some jaunty-looking open shirts over underwear for the men; the women have a mix of outfits that run from period chic to Amanda Wingfield’s antiquated finery. And as Blanche enacts her passion, the supporting cast promenades and scuffles before and over the proceedings, hawking roasted corn, or rolling a john, as if performing a dance to Kime’s music.

The production’s main flaw is a failure to generate the heat sparked when the wounded Blanche, heretofore a lover of effeminate, adolescent men who remind her of the beautiful young homosexual husband whose death set her unraveling, rubs up against her brutish brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, in a too-tight space. Marianna Bassham’s languid Stella seems almost drugged by sex, and there is something both sensual and ghoulish in Blanche’s near-seduction of the paperboy — here a definite kid. But between the prim vamp artfully etched by Harker and Todd Alan Johnson as a calculatedly simian Stanley, not much sparks. And without the audience’s nervous dread of the inevitable, even before Blanche removes her white gloves and Stanley his shirt, a three-and-a-quarter-hour production can seem a long slog toward what anyone who can spell “Marlon Brando” knows is coming.

Still, this is a worthy effort, rendered with care and as much choreographed as psychologically guided by Lombardo. The lyrical Streetcar is a masterpiece; its author identifies with the sensitive, life-battered Blanche, so the work suffers none of the sexual repulsion bordering on misogyny that mars some of the Williams canon (including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). And Harker — most vividly in the scenes where Blanche almost levels with human lifeboat Mitch — nails the warring nobility and pathos in the heartbreakingly affected neurotic. For his part, Bates Wilder is an aptly powerful mama’s boy of a Mitch, as pained by Stanley’s exposure of Blanche as she is. Bassham gives a complex performance as Stella, as full of defiant gloat as she is of shame at her addiction to Stanley and inability to rescue Blanche. And Johnson, if he fails to smolder like Brando, finds the deadly humor in Stanley’s calculated baiting of Blanche and the war-damaged little boy’s bellowing — with all of his trained singer’s lungs — for Stella.

070921_zanna_main
ZANNA, DON’T: Disney High School Musical removed to Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

“It would have meant the world to me to see a gay Brady Bunch episode,” Tim Acito, creator of ZANNA, DON’T!, told the Advocate. He never did see one, so he wrote it himself and set it to music, adding a twist: the squeaky-clean high-school world of this 2003 Off Broadway “musical fairy tale” is so solidly and squarely gay that a heterosexual couple, reluctantly coming out, are shunned. To make things right, the show’s title character, a matchmaking teen with a magic wand, must cast a spell that changes the world — or at least the world of Heartsville High — forever. In its New England premiere by SpeakEasy Stage Company (at the Calderwood Pavilion through October 13), on a brightly geometric cartoon set by Crystal Tiala, the show suggests Disney High School Musical removed to Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

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Related: The games people play, Grief encounter, Play by play: October 23, 2009, More more >
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