by Sarah Haley
Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire was once a harrowing insight into the class conflict between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ American South. In the modern day, the intentions of the play are much less palpable. Right from the onset, it is clear that cultivating the impression of being in the heart of New Orleans is important. The stage is often back-lit with the glow of a summer sunset and meandering jazz permeates the theatre. It is an attempt to transport the audience into the story. The story it is trying to tell, however, is less clear. Ottawa Little Theatre’s sixth show of the season is a cohesive and visually appealing production, but there is a divide between the atmosphere the show creates, and the story it tries to tell.
This performance is cohesive in part because of its masterful aesthetic elements. The set (designed by Robin Riddihough), so dominant on the stage, feels like a reflection of the characters. Stanley and Stella’s apartment is made of two rooms, with mesh walls that allow the alley behind to perforate into the rooms. The windows show signs of deterioration, and the rickety staircase leading to the neighbors’ apartment underscore the lack of privacy within the apartment, and more importantly, within the play. Right from the start, the set foreshadows the deterioration of relationships and the loss of individuality and privacy. It is a successful and compelling design that allows for versatility and creativity.
Less compelling, however, was the slow jazz that constantly reminds the audience of the setting. While the accordion music that accompanies Blanche’s flashbacks is symbolic, it is loud and jarring, and it removes the audience from the story instead of drawing them in. Similarly, the lighting, while extremely well designed by David Magladry had little use other than to mark the time of day. The rich sunsets and the hazy dusks that light the stage are beautiful but contribute little to the story. These elements, from the massive set to the tiny details of the props and costumes, create a cohesive set and a compelling atmosphere, something the play itself seems to lack.
Megan LeMarquand and Laura Hall, as Stella and Blanche respectively, are capable actors in their own right. However, they lacked the chemistry to portray sister convincingly. While their presence on stage is strong, it is difficult to discern the motives and depth of the characters. This lack of character motivation is apparent in many performances; the meaning and depth of the story seem secondary to the recitation of the script. Dan DeMarbre’s performance as Stanley Kowalski is an exception. As Stanley, DeMarbre is able to shift from cheery laughter to steely cruelty at the drop of a hat. These quick shifts of emotions are captivating and terrifying; Stanley is a believable juxtaposition of a loving husband and a cruel man.
It is difficult to discern what the message of this play is. In her director’s note, Sarah Hearn speaks in depth about the violence of the play. In the production, however, it is difficult to understand the role of the violence. This play deals with sexism, abuse, assault, and class conflict, but despite these themes, there is no clear focus or message. The violence and abuse seem gratuitous, but perhaps this is a criticism of the text itself. A Streetcar Named Desire was written in 1947 and it carries some outdated themes and beliefs; it makes the conclusion of play feel like a deflating balloon. The performances are stellar; real, fraught emotions rage across the stage, but the ending itself is frustrating.
Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire is aesthetically evocative and compelling. It is a cohesive performance that combines the different elements of stage and setting well, but it is not without its flaws. Despite the competent performance, the play seemed lost in its own identity and role in the modern world.
A Streetcar Named Desire
March 21-April 7 at Ottawa Little Theatre
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Sarah Hearn
Assistant Directors Gil Winstanley and Josh Kemp
Set Design by Robin Riddihough
Lighting Design by David Magladry
Sound Design by David Ing
Costume Design by Peggy Laverty
A full listing of cast & crew can be found here.
Sarah Hayley is a student at Carleton University. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with concentrations in Medieval Studies and Theatre.