A Streetcar Named Desire typically requires an elaborate set. In his stage directions, Tennessee Williams specifies that the French Quarter flat of Stanley and Stella Kowalski has two rooms separated by a curtain. Most versions also include the apartment of Steve and Eunice above, a shower for the unwinding of the wild poker party scene, and of course a big stairway for Stella to descend in response to Stanley’s famous cry of anguish.
In this UCSB “black box” production, the proscenium is gone, as is the curtain inside the apartment; in Irwin Appel’s innovative theater-in-the-round staging, everything has to happen either somewhere in the middle of the room or else offstage and out of sight. The results are thrilling, and this Streetcar is one for the books. From the opening scene, in which the Kowalskis’ neighbors take up positions in the aisles among the audience members, it is clear that there will be no escaping this play. Not for Blanche, not for Stella, not for Stanley or Mitch, and not even for you, theatergoer. And that’s a very good thing.
As Stella, Grace Morrison provides just the right mixture of tenderness and strength to provide a convincing foil to her big sister, while as Stanley, Joe Samaniego comes on like a raging bull, all testosterone and street smarts. Joe Caldwell provides a winning and sensitive interpretation of Mitch that contributes mightily to the devastating impact of his eventual turn away from tenderness. Nicole Abramson plays the hell out of the legendary role of Blanche, digging deep into the language and coming up with an electrifying blend of poetry and desperation. If you have any interest at all in the American theater, this is a must-see production. Congratulations to everyone involved for creating such a satisfying piece of theater.