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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Triumphant production of a searing classic

Amy Kowalczuk as Blanche. Photo: Jane Duong

Theatre / A Streetcar Named Desire. At  ACT Hub. Until June 29. Reviewed by ALANNA MACLEAN.

Tennessee Williams is not for the faint of heart. A Streetcar Named Desire is one of those plays where you dread the end because you know what’s coming for Blanche DuBois, southern belle at the end of her tether. 

And thanks to everyone from Vivien Leigh to Marge Simpson the line “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” is almost as well known as “To be or not to be…”.

Free-Rain Theatre, under director Anne Somes and associate director Cate Clelland, do a fine job with this searing classic. One could quarrel with the end-on staging, which does cause some of the audience to have sightline problems, but the production rises above that, mostly due to some careful casting and excellent team work. 

The atmosphere of crowded living in New Orleans, a long way from Blanche’s faded southern mansion upbringing, is created well by a largish cast in a group of small atmospheric roles. 

Neighbours, people in the streets, people who knock on the door selling things, men playing card games; all disturb Blanche who is used to much more personal space. But a series of disasters has forced her to take refuge with her sister Stella, married to the blunt and shrewd Stanley (Alex Hoskison).

Alex Hoskison and Meaghan Stewart as Stanley and Stella. Photo: Jane Duong

Amy Kowalczuk as Blanche and Meaghan Stewart as her sister Stella are one of the best matched set of Streetcar sisters that you could hope for. Stella has found a passionate happiness with the earthy Stanley and does not seem nearly as troubled by the destruction of their southern way of life as Blanche.

But then, as is slowly revealed, Blanche has had a much less straightforward life. Kowalczuk and Stewart are terrific in the roles.

Hoskison makes a towering and pragmatic Stanley, challenging Kowalczuk’s increasingly untethered Blanche all the way to the traumatic climax and the aftermath. Gentle would-be suitor Mitch (perceptive performance by Lachlan Ruffy) doesn’t stand a chance. 

But it’s the image of David Bennett as the sinister, courtly, hat-wearing Doctor at the end who makes it clear what forces Blanche is up against. One wonders what Stella’s future might be. 

 

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