September 15, 2008

This ‘Streetcar’ Stops In Darkness

By Marty Crisp

Theater Review

New Orleans doesn't run a streetcar down Desire Street anymore. It runs a bus - just another example of how we're losing our sense of romance.

A Bus Named Desire simply doesn't have the iconic ring of "A Streetcar Named Desire," the new production from Ephrata Performing Arts Center.

The Pulitzer Prize winning, circa-1947 drama from legendary American playwright Tennessee Williams is directed by EPAC's own legendary Artistic Director Ed Fernandez.

The 12-member cast spends three hours (not counting intermission) in a nondescript flat with a stylized background of wrought iron fence and hanging moss. It's a place on Elysian Fields Avenue in the working class Faubourg Marigny section of N'awlins, not too far from the jazz-hot French Quarter.

And there's hotness on stage thanks to an often shirtless Tim Reilly as the crude but smoldering Stanley Kowalski (a young Marlon Brando defined the role on Broadway and in the 1951 film version). It's one of the most difficult roles in our theatrical lexicon, because the character is so unremittingly brutal. Pre-Hurricane Katrina, Stanley Kowalski was caricatured annually in a spring New Orleans tradition that saw competitors ripping off their undershirts and yelling "Stel-l-la!"

But Stanley can't be a caricature for this play to work. "Streetcar" hinges on making this wife-beating rapist in some small way both hurt and human. For all his talent, Reilly has not found a way to bring a spark of sympathy to his Stanley.

Perhaps Kristie Ohlinger as Blanche DuBois, the simpering Southern Belle pretending to be a "Lady" with a capital L, has stolen every available drop of sympathy as she desperately clings to her genteel dreams. She's lost the family plantation, Belle Reve; she's lost her job as a high school English teacher (because she fooled around with a 17-year-old student, something that practically sounds "ripped from the headlines" today); she's lost her true love (whom she discovered to be gay and suicidal); and she's clearly lost her self-respect. Ohlinger plays Blanche with a fierce power that refuses to whine or simper.

She is well matched by Kevin Ditzler as Harold Mitchell, Stanley's unlikely friend who falls for Blanche - and represents her last hope - before Stanley crushes both friend and sister-in-law with his cruel (but true) gossip. Ditzler's anger and helplessness in the face of despair are palpable.

Elizabeth Frank does well with the thankless role of Stella Kowalski, a one-time aristocrat embracing her inner commoner.

Trying to hold her life together, she puts up with both Stanley and Blanche, never seeming very concerned with her own dignity - a dignity that isn't helped in Act II when her costume's pregnancy belly seems large enough for triplets.

"Death is the opposite of desire," Blanche tells us. And "Streetcar" is the opposite of fluff. Despite some early laughs, this is a dark, deep-thinker of a piece in a thought-provoking production for all lovers of classics.

"A Streetcar Named Desire" runs through Sept. 20. Shows are Wed.- Sat. 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. Sept. 20. Ephrata Performing Arts Center, Tom Grater Memorial Park, Ephrata, 733-7966, or log on to

Originally published by Marty Crisp, Correspondent.

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