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A Streetcar Named Desire - Bay Weekly Review

From Bay Weekly

Volume 14, Issue 46 ~ November 16 - November 22, 2006

U.S. Naval Academy Masqueraders' Streetcar Named Desire

Steamy, stimulating and provocative.

Reviewed by Kat Bennett

When Tennessee Williams' biographical drama, A Streetcar Named Desire, first opened in 1947 audiences were shocked by the sexual and psychological portrayals. The U.S. Naval Academy's Masqueraders make Williams' New Orleans characters surprisingly modern yet no less steamy or complex.

Stanley and Stella Kowalski live in a neighborhood called Elysian Fields in New Orleans' pre-Katrina French Quarter. A second generation working-class American, Stanley drinks bowls and gambles with his old army buddies. Sometimes, when drunk, he hits his wife. But, he says, he never stops loving her.

Daughter of southern wealth, Stella sees nothing of the squalor around her. Life might be rough, but in her love she has her own paradise, which partly explains the name of the neighborhood.

Blanche, Stella's older sister, arrives like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, slithering with the air of a tragic southern princess. Instantly jealous of her sister, Blanche tries to isolate Stanley for herself. War ensues with Stella in the middle. Blanche fights with lies and seductions; Stanley with truth and directness.

Stanley finds that Blanche has lost job and home because of her ravenous seductions. He does not know that she was driven mad by the suicide of her young husband. Now unable to love, she relies on sex to conquer.

Finally, brother- and sister-in-law collide. Stanley rapes, then ignores Blanche. Beaten at her own game, she loses her mind and is taken away to an asylum. But Paradise has been lost.

Rather than copy the brutish Stanley and delicate Blanche of the Elia Kazan film, Masqueraders' director Christy Stanlake freed her cast to find their own characters — which they do with great success. In their early bloom, the Masqueraders are satisfying and provocative.

As befitting a master sergeant who survived World War II and who now holds the lead position at his post-war civilian job, David Smestuen's Stanley is savvy and smart. When he peels off his shirt, Stanley ripples with sexuality, taking pleasure in his body and physical strength.

Former cheerleader Joy Dewey creates a Blanche who is a hard-drinking, fast-talking, manipulative woman intent on her own pleasures.

Stella, ably played by sophomore Julie Barca, is by contrast gentle, trusting and compassionate. Julie imbues her character with a composure and quiet strength that balances the passions of Stanley and Blanche.

Mitch, Stanley's best friend who almost marries Blanche, is portrayed with believable vulnerability by senior Sean Bingham.

Set designer Richard Montgomery of Eastport has again created a masterpiece worth the price of admission. You enter to an open stage that, like an exquisite painting, is balanced in color, shape and form. Peeling plaster and broken woodwork evoke the faded elegance of a lost paradise.

Working with lighting designers Mike Gumpert and Emily Ansorge, Montgomery incorporates some creative effects directly into the set. Between acts, the liquor shelf acts as a nightlight and reminds the audience of the impact of alcohol on the characters. Another surprise is a large antique mirror that illuminates Blanche as she compulsively washes, demonstrating her constant sexual presence within the home.

Tennessee Williams' original script called for music to weave the acts together. When director Stanlake discovered that sophomore saxophonist Bill Parks enjoyed improvising, she asked him to join the cast. Parks appears within the shadows as each scene closes, filling the theatre with a dreamy, jazzy blues. There is a tinge of regret as each piece fades and the next begins.

Costume designer Bonnie Jarrell stuck to the jeans and T-shirt standard for Stanley, with frills and revealing décolletage to highlight Blanche's predatory sexuality. Rather than rags and aprons, Stella's clothes are neat, clean and innocently pretty. Their soft and light colors create the sense of a pastel angel.

Catch this Streetcar; it stimulate and provokes.

Playing thru Nov. 19 at 8pm FSa; 2pm Su @ Mahan Theatre, inside USNA's gate #3 off Maryland Ave., Annapolis. $10: 410-293-tixs.

Note: Parking and free shuttle service available from the Navy/Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. General access at Gate 3, Maryland Ave., but this gate is locked at the end of the performance. You must have photo identification. Handicapped access: 410-293-6217.

With Ali Teoh (Gee Gee), Aby Foster (Eunice), Scott Felter (Steve), Sierra Cox (Esperanza), Shawn Hoch (Pablo), Ken Mateo (Benny), Katie Gideon (Nurse Betty), Jeremy Ball (Doctor Travis). Plus Judah Nyden, Lt. Brandon Soule, Joe Daniel, Trevor Byrne, Josh Hill, Allysia Hood, Ensign Mike Dubocq, Dave Underhill, Randy Martell, Dick Gleison, Greg Zingler.

Supported by Jason Shaffer, dramaturg. Jeff Withingto, sound designer. Josh Foxton, stage manager. Tamara Alvarado, set crew head. Sierra Cox, wardrobe mistress. Casey Grable and Sierra Cox, props mistresses. Mike Gumpert, light operator. Will Hyde and Gabe Campton, sound operators.

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