STANLEY AND STELLA Boghigian and Mancini.
If A Streetcar Named Desire were a person, it wouldn't be able to sleep at night, tossing and turning in a fever sweat, aching for basic human connection. The Tennessee Williams classic, directed by Ed Shea, is being staged at 2nd Story Theater through May 24. The production demonstrates how difficult it is to convey larger-than-everyday-life emotions.
This was the first of a string of five Williams plays, powered by sexual longing that was sometimes suppressed but usually flaunted, which burst onto the American theater scene starting in 1947. Its refreshing frankness earned the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the appreciation of theatergoers for unblinking psychological honesty.
In bold contrast is the representative dishonesty of one character in particular. Blanche DuBois (Barb McElroy) is an arche-typal faded Southern belle, displaying insincere gentility like a tattered peacock. She has "lost" the remnants of her family's Mississippi estate, once a prosperous plantation, and has fled to New Orleans and her estranged sister, Stella (Rae Mancini). The playwright's irritation with the hypoc-risy of his native South oozes off the stage in the first minutes. Blanche tries to appear polite but repeatedly reveals annoyance that her sister is living under "these conditions" in her simple two-room flat; she keeps going to the whiskey bottle, while affecting well-bred restraint.
Stella's husband is Stanley Kowalski (Ara Boghigian) — crude, of Polish extraction, an uncultivated primitive next to Blanche and her air of refinement and cultural pretenses. And he's a hunk. On their first meeting, he removes his shirt in the sultry heat, and Blanche's demure aura is in danger of burning off like a mist.
The relationship that works best in this production is an incidental one. Mitch is a coworker and friend of Stanley who takes a romantic interest in Blanche. As presented by Mark Gentsch, he is considerate and a little moody without being a wimp, characterized as he is by taking care of his dying mother. Like Amanda Winfield's gentleman caller in The Glass Menagerie, Mitch is Blanche's last hope, a chance to finally be taken care of, not to mention loved, as long as he doesn't find out about her sordid past.
McElroy's take on Blanche has her more knowing than self-deluded about the gap between her frail persona and her tempered-steel core. For example, when Stanley shouts at her to "cut out the rebop," to stop pretending, McElroy has her take that in stride, closer to smug than upset. This is a knowing Blanche, which underscores the desperation we're aware she's feeling.
As Stella, Mancini is straightforward, a woman energized by passion for her man. Stella could use some of the frailty that her sister feigns, though. A little of that would have provided solid groundwork before her conversation with her sister when she excuses Stanley for hitting her; we need to see the relationship that keeps that twisted dynamic alive.