Everybody goes through difficulties and stresses, and there are two responses that each of us have: the reasonable response and the unreasonable one.
Or, you can look at it as the easy response or the difficult one.
The response to life’s stresses is at the heart of "A Streetcar Named Desire," the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tennessee Williams which received a stunning production over the weekend at American Players Theatre in Spring Green.
This is a troubled and troubling play, rife with symbolism and with a certain brutality that centers on three characters: Stanley and Stella Kowalski and her sister, Blanche DuBois.
Stella and Stanley are newlyweds, living in a poor but mildly charming apartment in New Orleans. One day Blanche arrives, lost apparently from her ancestral plantation home in Laurel, Mississippi.
These are three of the most ambiguous characters in all of Williams’ work, and the path each takes is how the story is best told.
Stanley is a Pole who is all about manliness and fire and fury. When he puts on his tie as a traveling salesman he has an inflated sense. Blanche calls him "common," virtually the most critical insult. Stanley is a hero with a serious case of physicality in all that he does. He is very loyal to his wife and his friends, with he shares his two passions, poker and bowling.
Eric Parks gives us a mercurial Stanley, beset by demons fueled by beer and the fear of being labeled an outright alcoholic. His passion for his wife runs deep and easily bubbles to the surface. He hides all of his stresses behind the thick veneer of the macho boss of all that he surveys.
Stella is in the middle and she brings the warring lives of Blanche and Stanley into the same arena. Each of them wants to convince Stella to be on their side- have her as an ally in the continuing struggle between Blanche and Stanley. Stella is both resentful and suspicious of the serious criticism her sister levels at her husband. She refuses to be drawn into war with her sister.
Cristina Panfilio’s Stella feels the stress from her sister and from her husband, who when drunk sometimes pounds and beats her. She takes the easy way out, content to stay with Stanley despite all the persuasive reason to leave him. Stella keeps her down and marches steadfastly into the winds trying to blow her down.
Blanche is the fallen woman. The family home is gone. She no longer has her job as a teacher, having been fired for having an affair with a student. Her marriage failed when she told her young husband she had seen him with another man and, in shame, he put a gun in his mouth and "blew out the back of his head." She lived in a hotel famous for it’s prostitutes and succumbed to the blandishments of young soldiers stationed nearby. But her haughty "fine daughter of the South" mien is but a portrait painted with fragile watercolor that will run and disappear under the coming deluge.
Tracy Michelle Arnold, the mesmerizing actor who has created such memorable characters at APT, has outdone herself with this Blanche. The temptation for any actor is to overplay this woman beset by so many demons, most of which are her own creation. But Arnold holds a tight rein on this Blanche. She is buttoned up in public but wanton in private.
Her meeting with a teenage newspaper boy, a meeting in which she says, "I want to kiss you on the mouth," is a brief transformation of belle to slattern. She flirts and takes easy steps toward seduction.
Perhaps one of the sexiest scenes ever seen on stage, shortly after her arrival Stanley is laying, half naked on a bed, smoking a cigarette. Blanche bums a cigarette out of his pack and walks to the head of the wrought iron bed. She carefully reaches over and lifts his hand and, while holding her cigarette in her mouth, lights hers off of his. And she delays releasing his hand for a couple of beats. It is a moment that drips with the erotic.
A word must also be mentioned about Tim Gittings and his Mitch, who becomes the safe harbor to Blanche. A prissy and discomfited bachelor, he longs for a woman to marry and bring home to his dying mother. Blanche slowly reels in the line with Mitch at the other end and for a moment it appears she has found a pillow upon which to land.
But after Stanley, with utmost cruelty, tells Mitch of the dark secrets of Blanche’s past, he turns just as cruel as his friend. He forces Blanche off the cliff of doom, never to return to the civilized world.
Blanche best sums up her life, and the story of this play, in an impassioned moment with Mitch.
"I don’t want realism," she cries. "I want magic."
Magic is what APT gives to each of us with this production.
"A Streetcar Named Desire" runs in repertory at APT. Information of showtimes and tickets is available here.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.