NY1 Theater Review: "A Streetcar Named Desire"
TV and film stars Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker made their Broadway debuts this past week in Emily Mann's new staging of "A Streetcar Named Desire." NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.
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I’m not sure this company made a case for casting black actors in Tennessee Williams’ classic "A Streetcar Named Desire," but I can also say they successfully demonstrated that the play can support a multi-racial cast and in fact the production exposed some interesting new dimensions.
Don’t expect any radical reinvention here. Race factors into the narrative in subtle ways. Director Emily Mann emphasizes the racial diversity in New Orleans’ French Quarter, where the play is set.
Its rhythms, the dialogue and humor especially, reflect a tonal shift. New music composed by jazz great Terence Blanchard injects aural authenticity. And Mann’s second-act funeral procession, Cajun-style, is nicely evocative.
Beyond gimmickry, the casting is justified with solid work. Wood Harris’ sensitive and honest portrayal as Mitch is among the best I’ve seen. Daphne Rubin-Vega accentuates the pull of passion in her relationship with the brutish Stanley. In this version, his last name "Kowalski" is left out.
If he doesn’t erase the memory of Marlon Brando, Blair Underwood certainly has the star’s charisma and he makes a very creditable Stanley. As Blanche, Nicole Ari Parker’s youthful beauty renders her slightly miscast as the fading southern belle, but she holds her own, finding new shades in this difficult role as both victim and survivor.
Williams wrote the play in 1947 and there’s no disguising its inherent melodrama and overblown symbolism. Inadvertently it created something of an added player to the mix, the audience, which supplied unintended dialogue. It’s nice to see them so engaged but laughter during a rape scene can really wreck a show’s momentum. That aside, the production, while not groundbreaking, is on the right track.