A Streetcar Named Desire

Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Susan Ferley
Performed by Claire Jullien, Evan Buliung, Brenley Charkow
Grand Theatre, London
February 1 to19, 2005
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

A New & Improved Streetcar

Grand Theatre Director Susan Ferley has created a somewhat lighter version of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcare Named Desire”. That’s not say this play is a bed of roses – far from it. It is still dark and brooding, but unlike the famous Marlon Brando movie, it has a few moments of laughter and hope, making it more palatable for today’s audience.

Someone watching the 1952 movie today would be unable to find any redeeming features in Brando’s Stanley Kowalski. The Grand Theatre’s Stanley doesn’t have many good qualities either. But, unlike the heavy, depressing movie, somehow, you’re left with a bit of hope for Stanley & Stella’s future with their new baby.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” is the story of Blanche Dubois, an aging, fading Southern Belle, who has deluded herself in thinking she is still a beauty. And even though the family plantation and all her money is now gone, she has held on to her snobbery. When we meet her, she is basically homeless, and has lost her position as a teacher. She has come to New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella and her husband, Stanley. She is critical of their tiny, run-down home, and her disdain for Stanley, who she refers to as a “common Pollack”, is evident.

Stanley checks into her background and finds out she was fired from teaching for seducing a student, and she is well known at a less-than-reputable hotel. After learning this, he has no tolerance for her judgemental haughtiness, and tempers flare.

Claire Jullien as excellent as Blanche who says, “I don’t want realism, I want magic”. Jullien makes us sympathise with the pathetic Blanche at first, and then later as her delusions start to unravel, we see a changing Blanche. Jullien’s skilled acting shows as Blanche becomes increasingly neurotic and her agitation is obvious.

Evan Buliung is so good as Stanley Kowalski, that you forget the way Brando did it. He is even able to pull off yelling “Stella!”, without the famous line sounding overdone. Although Stanley is a bad-tempered brute, Buliung allows us to see a little of the small bit of goodness that Stella must see him in.

Brenley Charkow as Stella, also masters the role, showing the audience that Stella is an intelligent person, while putting up with Stanley’s abuse and terrible temper. Charkow does an excellent job of maintaining the delightful Louisiana accent.

Kudos to Director Susan Ferley for injecting some humour into the production. Blanche sneaks to the cupboard, grabs the bottle of whiskey and downs several shots before anyone else comes home. A few minutes later, when offered a couple of drinks, she declines, saying sweetly, “oh no, one is my limit.”

Charlotte Dean’s set is well done, recreating a New Orlean’s tenement, and designing it realistically, while letting us see both rooms, the outdoor circular staircase and the street.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” continues at the Grand Theatre in London until February 19. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.


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