‘Desire’ leads to major drama at Stage 3

Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

Stage 3 Theatre has the antidote to indifference."A Streetcar Named Desire," playing through Oct. 13, will leave you thinking long after the house lights go dark.

Did pregnant Stella Kowalski really forgive her husband after he punched her in a drunken rage?

Did Stanley Kowalski really rape his sister-in-law while his wife was in the hospital delivering their baby?

Is Blanche DuBois really an alcoholic, pathological liar with a penchant for multiple partners and underage boys?

Or is this just the way things go in a Tennessee Williams play?

The apparent answer to all these questions is yes, although there is room for debate on some scores.

Whatever the verdict, Stage 3 has delivered a riveting version of the Pulitzer Prize winning drama.

Set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1948, "A Streetcar Named Desire" is among the most revered works in 20th century literature, and this cast catapults beyond mere interpretation to the plane of character habitation.

From the moment the opening lights reveal a shabby, disheveled apartment, it is obvious that things are not likely to go well for the next two-plus hours.

Amiable enough are the two women chatting casually on a spiral staircase leading to the adjoining upstairs apartment.

Stanley enters with his trademark bravado, tosses Stella a package from the butcher shop and continues on to the bowling alley with his friend Mitch.

Enter Stella's older sister, Blanche, who appears lost. Assured she is in the right place, Blanche begins to settle into the tiny apartment that is supposed to provide her with shelter from the life that has been rapidly spinning downward.

The two-room flat is far from the lifestyle to which Blanche had become accustomed at the family plantation, Belle Reve, now lost to creditors.

Stella also had been raised at Belle Reve but has adjusted to her new life with the virile, hot-tempered Stanley.

The development of these three characters forms the center of the play, but the entire cast unites to fashion a benchmark presentation.

First-rate support is provided by Michael Lynch and Francine La Meire as upstairs neighbors Steve and Eunice Hubbell. Along with handling dramatic lines, they offer endless comic relief as a bickering yet insatiable couple.

Ben Adriano also gets a chance to shine as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, the most sensitive among Stanley's bowling and poker buddies, who also include Lynch and the capable Mike Moon as Pablo Gonzales.

Smaller roles are ably played by Mikki Williams, Sherry Dumos, Glenn Meadows and Susan Chapman, who also provide the silhouetted background vignettes depicting the seamier side of the New Orleans nightlife.

Nine or more cheers go to the three main characters for their spellbinding performances.

Krista Joy Serpa is charming as Stella Kowalski, illuminating a subtle yet complex personality. By default, she is the quietest of the three - and ultimately the most likeable.

If Stella has a fault, it is her unwavering devotion to her husband, despite flaws that would justify separation in any modern court of law.

Joe Conn brings the strong yet proudly uncouth Stanley Kowalski to vivid life. He is believable from start to finish, giving Stanley an initial raffish charm that is unable to conceal his ominous interior.

His Stanley does have a tendency to shout, which may in keeping with the character but ultimately becomes somewhat wearing on the audience. But if Stella doesn't mind, maybe we shouldn't either.

Driving everything is Traci Sprague as the one and only Blanche DuBois, the fragile, aging Southern beauty seeking some fragment of solace in her crumbling life.

Sprague most recently enamored Stage 3 audiences in "Other Desert Cities," playing a mentally disturbed daughter in what now seems like a training ground.

In "Streetcar," she becomes Blanche DuBois in all the vivacity, delusion, duplicity and endless eloquent speech that Williams surely envisioned.

If flaws in the production exist, they are technical and minor.

The confines of the set - which does boast a wonderful spiral staircase - are a bit confusing. With imaginary walls, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether the characters are indoor or out, and a partially imaginary curtain dividing the two rooms of the apartment is unpredictably heeded or ignored.

Also needing adjustment is the atmospheric "blue piano" music specified in the script. The music is there, but not seamless, such that it was at first unclear whether the sounds were intentional or merely someone's cell phone ringing at inopportune times.

Maryann Curmi directs, with lighting by Melody Johnson, set design by Ron Cotnam and costumes by Linda Glick and Susan Chapman.

Stage 3 is at 208 S. Green St. in downtown Sonora. For reservations, call 536-1778 or visit www.stage3.org.

11906925
The Union Democrat
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