“Hey, Stella!” Who among us has not at some point bellowed like Brando, even if only for laughs? Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire is perhaps best known for this immortal line, the love call of a contrite Stanley Kowalski. There’s even a contest in New Orleans, the climax of the annual Tennessee Williams Festival, called the “Stella Shouting Contest,” in which contestants compete by … well, you’ve probably figured that part out.
Although counterfeit Kowalskis may be easy to come by, full productions of A Streetcar Named Desire are decidedly less common, so it’s exciting news that UCSB’s BFA Theater program is mounting one from Thursday, May 9, through Sunday, May 19, at the school’s Performing Arts Theater. Among the small handful of truly classic American plays, Streetcar stands out as the most brutal, the most kinetic, and in many ways the most influential. UCSB professor Irwin Appel, who is directing this production, agrees, adding, “It’s one of the few — like Death of a Salesman or A Raisin in the Sun — that is truly Shakespearean in scope. That’s what attracted me to it, because I feel that this will allow these college actors and this predominantly college audience to have that experience of doing something major, an experience that, for the actors at least, is actually quite rare.”
Unlike previous stagings of the play, this one will be presented in the round and in an acting style that Appel calls “Acting Up Front.” This term denotes a highly direct, actor-centered approach in which sets are minimized and the play’s language provides the metaphorical electricity that powers the performances. Don’t worry though; there will be nonmetaphorical lights, and a cot, some chairs, and a table, but not much else. Appel intends to give audiences the sense of “claustrophobia in that tiny apartment after Blanche arrives.” Nicole Abramson will play Blanche, Grace Morrison will be her sister Stella, and Joe Samaniego will get the enviable yet formidable opportunity to try to fill Marlon Brando’s tank top. It should be one of the theatrical events of the season, if not the whole year, and no self-respecting Tennessee Williams buff would dare miss it. For tickets and information, call (805) 893-7221 or visit theaterdance.ucsb.edu.