Review: A Streetcar Named Desire (Soulpepper)

Soulpepper Theatre presents Tennessee Williams’ explosive classic on stage

One of Tennessee Williams‘ most celebrated works, A Streetcar Named Desire, is easily one of the most formidable plays of the 20th Century. Whether you’ve seen the stage production before or were introduced to the production by The Simpsons, there’s no denying how much elements from this play have been integrated into popular culture. Soulpepper Theatre now welcomes you to the sweltering heat of New Orleans, where tensions run high in Stella and Stanley’s dilapidated apartment.

In essence, A Streetcar Named Desire is a story of troubled people enabling and perpetuating the lives of other troubled people. Blanche Dubois (Amy Rutherford) is a broken southern belle leaving behind a life of loss in Mississippi. She arrives in New Orleans with hopes of moving in with her sister Stella Kowalski (Leah Doz) and her sister’s husband Stanley (Mac Fyfe), only to find that her sister is living in a rundown tenement, far from the life of southern comfort Blanche came from. Further adding to her dismay, Blanche is immediately at odds with Stan, she finding him brazen, loud and abusive while Stan sees through to a life of lies that Blanche abandoned in Mississippi.

Streetcar, as a whole, is an arduous production to wade through. Not only is it lengthy, the subject matter is intense and mentally exhausting, with tensions dialed up high throughout. The cast here do a tremendous job with the subject at hand. It’s easy to get lost in Blanche’s character and in her haze-filled mind and Rutherford does a fine job of unrelentingly going there, giving the audience a good dose of her delusions. On the other hand, Fyfe as Stan is scary and unhinged. Like a caged animal, Fyfe is unpredictable and prone to lashing out without warning. When he raises his voice and his fists to both Stella and Blanche, you feel it.

If depictions of domestic violence are unsettling for you, then this show may not be for you. What makes any production of Streetcar so impactful is when the cast and director are unwilling to shy away from the explosive violence. That being said, I was surprised to see Blanche become so complicit in her pinnacle scene rather than resist and fight as I’m used to seeing her do.

As integral as the cast are in this performance, so is the set. Director Weyni Mengesha, along with set designer Lorenzo Savoini and costume designer Rachel Forbes, have created sumptuously stunning set that creates dynamic textures and layers for the actors to play with. I love how the play began on a stark and empty set and as Blanche got off the Desire streetcar and found her way to Stella’s apartment, the set came to life with lightning speed. Immediately, a lived-in, run-down apartment sprung up around them as if it was there all along.

I loved the use of levels and how the neighbor Eunice’s (Akosua Amo-Adem) apartment seems to loom over them from above. Likewise, the live band appears from behind a wall and are introduced to the performance seamlessly. Lighting designer Kimberly Purtell has also done a great job creating mood and textures with the use of lights near the base of the stage and along the side.

Soulpepper’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire is unsettling, any performance of this show should be. Soulpepper has not set out to recreate the wheel with their take on Streetcar, but to put their own imprint of sumptuous theatre that speaks to the senses on it, which they’ve done.

Details:

  • A Streetcar Named Desire is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until October 27 2019.
  • Performances run Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7:30 pm with matinees on Wednesdays and weekends at 1:30 pm.
  • Tickets range from $38 – $98.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by phone by calling 416 866 8666, or in person at the box office.
  • Run Time: 3 hours and 15 minutes with a 20 minute intermission.
  • Audience Advisory: This production contains partial nudity, herbal cigarettes, and mature subject matter. Viewer discretion is advised.

Photo of Amy Rutherford and Gregory Prest by Dahlia Katz

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