Review by Polly Wittenberg
Written by: Tennessee Williams
Directed by: Edward Hall
Cast: Natasha Richardson (Blanche Du Bois), John C. Reilly (Stanley Kowalski), Amy Ryan (Stella Kowalski), Chris Bauer (Mitch), Wanda L. Houston (Negro Woman), Kristine Nielsen (Eunice Hubbell), Scott Sowers (Steve Hubbell), Will Toale (Young Collector) and Teresa Yenque (Mexican Woman).
Synopsis: The dramatic story of Blanche DuBois, a faded Southern belle driven to madness by her animalistic brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.
OK, I confess. For several years Iï¿½ve been a big fan of the work of Edward Hall, the director of the Roundaboutï¿½s revival of Tennessee Williamsï¿½ A Streetcar Named Desire. Most of what Iï¿½ve seen him direct has been great Shakespeare--Julius Caesar, Henry V, Rose Rage, A Midsummer Nightï¿½s Dreamï¿½all of it beautifully pruned and paced to make it accessible and relevant to modern British audiences. Iï¿½ve also seen gala productions heï¿½s directed at Londonï¿½s National Theatre of works by David Mamet (Edmond) and Stephen Sondheim (A Funny Thing Happened). None of this, however, would necessarily have prepared him to direct Williamsï¿½ great classic with a (mostly) American cast at the newly refurbished (with real theater seats replacing uncomfortable cabaret chairs) but still blackly-rococo Studio 54.
I neednï¿½t have worried. From its opening moments when you come upon the whirring fans and elaborate wrought-iron railings of Robert Brillï¿½s atmospheric set with dusky lighting by Donald Holder and are pasted to your chair by the loud clanging music (by John Gromada) of a hot New Orleans night, Hall and his entire crew whisk you to the cramped and tortured world where Blanche DuBois, a faded Mississippi belle with many past indiscretions and many great pretensions, collides with Stanley Kowalski, her sister Stellaï¿½s coarse and aggressive husband.
Blanche, who has a trunk filled with a fox stole, a tiara and other glamorous clothes but 65ï¿½ in her pocket, arrives to stay at the Kowalskisï¿½ squalid two-room flat. She and Stanley loathe each other at first sight. Stella is pregnant. Blanche sets her cap for Stanleyï¿½s friend Mitch who is seeking a replacement for his dying mother. Stanley sabotages the relationship. Violence and tragedy ensue.
Williams has fashioned three great roles in Blanche, Stanley and Stella. Many well-known actors, including Jessica Tandy, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Marlon Brando, have memorably played them. Add the names of Natasha Richardson, John C. Reilly and Amy Ryan to that honor roll.
Richardson, who has starred in two previous great productions at the Roundabout (Anna Christie and Cabaret), may be too young and too beautiful (in costumes by William Ivey Long) to be truly faded but she brings a husky Southern accent and great delicacy to the part. Watch how she uses her lace-cuffed hands or cringes in a corner. Every move, just right.
Iï¿½m sure that the casting as Stanley of John C. Reilly with the flat face and the bulbous nose is going to be controversial. He doesnï¿½t look the least bit like Brando. But he is Stanley, whom Blanche derides as a ï¿½Polackï¿½ with great disdain, and a horrific adversary for her. Whatever chemistry there is between the two of them is pure hate. You can feel it.
Forced to choose between her sister and her husband, sweet and steady Amy Ryan as Stella is the perfect embodiment of a perpetual conciliator done in by circumstances beyond her control.
When the climax is over (and you can tell itï¿½s the climax because the ever-present fans start turning at maximum speed) and Blanche has uttered that memorable line ï¿½I have always relied on the kindness of strangersï¿½, you will know that you have just witnessed the edge of insanity and will be glad for a bit of space and a breath of fresh air.
What the critics had to say.....
BEN BRENTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES says ï¿½Suffers from fundamental mismatches of parts and performers.ï¿½
HOWARD KISSEL of NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says ï¿½Hall may have missed the tenderness Williams feels for both Blanche and Stanley, but there's no doubt that his production reinvigorates this extraordinarily powerful play.ï¿½
CLIVE BARNES of NEW YORK POST says " This is a fine production of a great play."
ELYSA GARDNER of USA TODAY "'Streetcar' is Blanche's (Natasha Richardson) vehicle ï¿½ and fortunately, it's in capable hands."
LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY says "A busy but placid production that fails to justify its oddball casting with either chemistry or concept."
MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR_LEDGER says "Richardson offers a technically expert and at times beguiling performance that brightens director Edward Hall's respectful staging of a masterpiece."
MICHAEL KUCHWARA of Associated Press says "A curiously passionless affair, missing much of the play's sensuality and even some of its poetry."
FRANK SCHECK Of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER says "Director Edward Hall has delivered a vibrant staging, which looks particularly at home in the less than pristine surroundings of Studio 54. Despite the theater's effective air conditioning, you can practically feel the moist heat in the room."