U2’s “Rattle and Hum” album came out 20 freaking years ago and I still can’t read the word “desire” by itself without hearing it in my head as “De-si-I-I-I-I-ur.” But enough about my head…
You can’t talk about “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Sycamore Rouge without talking about Terry Menefee Gau. She does amazing things with a character seemingly tailor-made to showcase acting technique. It was my lovely wife who pointed out to me that even good actors think they have to “act drunk,” whereas an exceptional actress like Gau realizes that a real person who IS drunk generally is trying NOT to act drunk. This realization is clear in the many scenes where Blanche is getting drunk or is already there, and Gau shows both restraint and vigor in her performance. Gau does not condescend to Blanche, giving a finely attenuated portrayal of someone defensive but defiant, self-deluding but also self-aware, and all too thoroughly convinced in the forthrightness of her actions. The character of Blanche interacts with each other character entirely differently. Part of the power of Gau’s performance is that whether Blanche is with Stella, Stanley or Mitch, she is totally Blanche but also a different aspect of Blanche, unique in its mannerisms, tendencies and tone of voice.
Of course, if Gau didn’t have at least solid, and sometimes spectacular, support, her performance would get lost like a diamond on the beach. Equally as shiny as Gau was Angela Shipley as Stella. Stella spends a fair amount of time listening and reacting, but in some of the key scenes, Stella’s role is as vital as Blanche’s and Shipley nails these. A couple of my favorite Shipley moments were when Stella is first describing how she feels about Stanley and her desire is palpable and then later during the dinner scene when Stanley “clears the table.” In this scene, Shipley shows you Stella falling into the cadences and attitudes of Blanche, until she is abruptly brought back to reality.
I have to commend Bill Brock for taking on such a tough role, one so clearly identified with an acting icon. It would be almost impossible for an actor, any actor, not to suffer in comparison. Brock certainly does well and I was particularly impressed with the cleverness and the native intelligence he infuses Stanley with. The main thing I missed was the vulnerability that lies under Stanley’s gruff exterior, that soulful sensitive guy that really is lost without Stella. Capturing that in addition to everything else required of Stanley is a pretty tall order but its one of the things that kept Brock’s performance just a notch below that of the ladies, in my humble opinion.
I was sorry not to be able to mention Stafford Armstead as Mitch in my review. Casting an African-American in this role is an interesting choice and possibly distracting, particularly given Blanche’s apparent uneasiness around Dot and Eunice when she first comes onstage. Even so, Mr. Armstead does an excellent job, particularly given how much time he spends on stage just listening to Blanche. Armstead seemed just a wee bit awkward on stage, which either he was and it worked well for his character, or he wasn’t and it was an even better job of acting than I already gave him credit for.
It is always fun to see Shanea Taylor onstage and she and Dean Knight were entertaining as the upstairs neighbors. And it’s worth recognizing the thankless role of the Mexican woman played by Alison Haracznak. Actresses like her, who have to show up every night, say a couple of lines or fewer, and, in the case of Haracznak, spend their brief time on stage covered up and unrecognizable are among the real troupers of professional theater.
Finally, I couldn’t let this ramble go without mentioning the direction of Tommy Schoffler. Schoffler does a commendable job with an obviously challenging work. I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.