Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 25, 2011

A Streetcar Named Desire

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 3, 2011
by Barbara Stroup

Ana Reeder, Sam Rockwell
in a scene from
A Streetcar Named Desire

at Williamstown Theatre Festival.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
The Williamstown Theatre Festival presents a Tennessee Williams classic to open its 2011 season. A tight ensemble manages to use the Nikos Stage set to total advantage, portraying the play’s many dramas (reunion, jealousy, sexual passion, verbal abuse, reconciliation -- the list could go on) in the confines of a tiny two-room apartment. Sam Rockwell as Stanley, Jessica Heft as Blanche, and Ana Reeder as Stella bring a quality of acting to this production that maintains WTF’s reputation for stage experiences of the highest quality.

After the sound of melancholy streetcar bells opens the curtain, Blanche Dubois climbs onto the cramped porch of the Kowalski residence. The play deals with the effects of Blanche’s visit on the marriage of her sister to a man Blanche describes as ape-like. Stanley, in retribution for Blanche’s airs and superiority, uncovers her past. When that past is revealed to all and when he exerts ultimate power over her, she spirals downward quickly.

Using softness and vulnerability but showing the last vestiges of the strength that brought Blanche this far, Jessica Heft commands this production from her opening entrance. Heft inhabits the iconic character completely, bringing just the right balance of physicality and seduction -- her voice is as mesmerizing as a cool breeze on a hot New Orleansnight.

Sam Rockwell keeps Stanley from being a caricature. Despite the character’s habits of cleanliness and attitude towards women, Rockwell's Stanley is multi-dimensional, showing passion, humor, and sly perception. Ana Reeder makes the audience feel all of Stella’s torment, joy and betrayal. She manages to show both Stella’s passion for her husband and love for her sister as their rivalry and deviousness swirl around her.

The blocking, necessarily sensitive to the presence of on-stage seating, often turns faces away during dialog delivery. There were complaints of obstruction from the staircase to the upstairs flat at stage right, and of inhaling smoke from the characters’ many cigarettes. These seemed like minor inconveniences for an evening that totally immersed the audience in a timeless struggle both intimate and cosmic.