Home News ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ has all of Tennessee Williams’ pain

‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ has all of Tennessee Williams’ pain

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“I am not one who can find in Mr. Williams’ farewells the ray of light called hope,” Claudia Cassidy wrote in this very newspaper some 75 years ago. “As ‘The Glass Menagerie’ dimmed its candles on desolation, so ‘Streetcar’ opens the doors of the madhouse to a woman who only by the grace of God will be mad when she enters them.”

Indeed. Those words of the late, great drama critic — who adored Tennessee Williams and jump-started his career — always ring in my ears when I review Williams’ plays, especially “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which now can be seen in a truly wonderful little staging at the Copley Theatre in downtown Aurora, a production of sufficient artistry as to be well worth a train or a drive out to the western suburbs for city-based aficionados.

It’s part of the Paramount Theatre’s so-called Bold Series, a weird moniker for one of the great classics of American drama, now some 78 years old. The intention, I think, is to prepare audiences for not seeing a musical, even though this production is filled with all kinds of rich melodies.

“Streetcar” has not been seen much of late in Chicago; the last truly memorable production was David Cromer’s staging at Writers Theatre in Glencoe in 2010.  This one is right up there with that gobsmacker.

Paramount’s “Streetcar” is from the gifted veteran director Jim Corti, the man who has elevated big-scale musical productions in west suburban Chicago, and who clearly has been itching to try something different. He co-directs here with Elizabeth Swanson. As Blanche, Corti and Swanson have cast Amanda Drinkall, a highly accomplished Chicago actress known for (among others) “Venus in Fur” at the Goodman Theatre, “Othello” at Court Theatre, and Robert Falls’ valedictorian staging of “The Cherry Orchard” last year.  Stella is Alina Taber, who I last saw (believe it or not) as a fine Rizzo in Drury Lane’s “Grease.” Stanley is Casey Hoekstra, a veteran of American Players Theatre in Wisconsin.  This is a highly skilled cast, all palpably hungry to wrestle with these roles.

I had a sense this “Streetcar” was going to be really good when I first saw Taber’s face as Hoekstra’s Stanley entered. Blanche may depend on the kindness of strangers but “Streetcar” depends on Stella being so sensually consumed by all that Stanley has to offer her that she sells her sister down the river.

“Could anyone forget that last “Streetcar” scene?” Cassidy wrote of the the play’s first staging. “Pretentious, promiscuous Blanche of the pitiful airs and graces, who has found that the obverse of death is desire, is raped by her potent hulk of a brother in law, and her sex-obsessed sister has her committed rather than admit the truth.”

Cassidy hated Stella and felt deeply for Blanche. I think that’s because the critic saw herself in the poor woman, and also thought her beloved Williams resided there, too, forever pursued by his demons. You certainly feel Drinkall agrees — her Blanche has this wonderfully relentless quality, a existential kind of determination to keep powering on with all of her self-constructed artifice on pain of death. This is such a hard role to pull off nowadays and Drinkall is just spectacular.

If you read John Lahr’s biography of Williams, you come away believing that Williams had plenty of Stanley in him, too, and that idea is also richly reflected here. Hoekstra’s Stanley is as needy as he is cruel and violent, a disturbed man-child chaos agent, bringing anguish to two vulnerable women.

As the lynchpin of the play, Taber makes the case that Stella is only pursuing what she wants out of her adult life, which after all is a product of her rough youth. Until Blanche shows up, she’s happy.

But a kid coming? How would Stanley have coped with that, Blanche or no Blanche, I always wonder.

Paramount’s show doesn’t come with the typical Big Easy soundtrack, nor does it traffic in the standard sweaty sensuality, as advertised in the marketing materials.

Sex here is an act of both destruction and survival, as Williams knew and Cassidy hated to admit.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

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Review: “A Streetcar Named Desire” (4 stars)

When: Through April 21

Where: Paramount’s Copley Theatre, 8 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora

Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Tickets:  $40-$55 at 630-896-6666 and paramountaurora.com



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