Second show in on a three show-in-a-row run and I’m already starting to fall behind. I knew I should have done this one before I went to bed! Now I’ve distracted myself with comic books, my coffee is cold and I haven’t made dinner yet and my next show starts in a little over two hours. Time to dig deep! Or at least scratch the surface as maniacally as I can muster.
Had a lovely theatre date with my galpal, whom we shall refer to in these pages as ‘The Otter’ for baffling but adorable reasons, last night. A bite out, some pleasant chatter, and then a long-overdue return to the Ottawa Little Theatre. How long? It wasn’t red on the outside last time I saw a show there, that’s how long! Not in love with the red, for what it’s worth, but it certainly is shiny and new, so there’s that! But also beside the point, since we weren’t there for shiny new signage, but opening night of the long-awaited 105th season production of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, that most classic of classics by Tennessee Williams. Now full disclosure…I’ve never read OR seen Streetcar (how do I even call myself a Theatre fan? The things you people let me get away with), although I did start reading it as prep for a theoretical preview post on this show that never materialized. It would have been fun and informative and you’re welcome. Post never happened, and I stopped reading about halfway to preserve the surprise on opening night. And boy did I get it!
As known to all but me, Streetcar tells the tale of fanciful Southern belle Blanche DuBois (played here by Laura Hall) who arrives one day, after a rickety ride on the titular streetcar*, at the dilapidated New Orleans home of her estranged sister Stella (Megan LeMarquand). A mysterious fate has befallen their ancestral estate Belle Reve, although Blanche is short on details and high on anxiety. She struggles to settle in to the modest apartment Stella shares with her husband Stanley Kowalski (Dan DeMarbre), especially since she and Stanley immediately begin to grate against one another. The first major event of Blanche’s stay occurs during a heated poker game between Stanley and his pals, including good guy Mitch (Kurt Shantz), who takes a quick shine to Blanche. Things go inexorably downhill from there as Stanley’s animal nature clashes with Blanche’s desperate attempts to cling to her high-falutin roots, and the secrets she’s trying to keep covered come slowly to the surface.
So there’s a lot to love about this show and production (Turns out it’s a classic for a reason, who knew? Oh, everyone but me? Cool, cool.). Right off, it’s a gorgeous set from OLT master Robin Riddihough, aided by sweet lighting from David Magladry. And there’s some terrific supporting work across the board, most notably noisy neighbours Steve and Eunice (Ryan Tapping and Amy Kennedy) who steal a few quick scenes with much appreciated comic relief. And Shantz’ earnest, repressed Mitch is just spot-on marvellous. But this show ultimately comes down to the strength of its three leads, and director Sarah Hearn has cast exceptionally well. Dan DeMarbre does a great job as Stanley, drifting between likeable everyman to snarling bully easily and believably. It’s a tough role, especially with Brando’s ‘STELLLLAAAA!!’ moment lingering in everyone’s collective unconscious to compare with. Megan DeMarquand is superb as Stella, strong, unique and seemingly a match for Stanley’s brutish impulses…or at least at telling herself she is. The moments where her strength starts to fail her are remarkable to witness. And Laura Hall is pretty much revelatory as Blanche. The role calls for almost constant stage presence, endless self-absorbed monologues from a character lost in her own personal version of reality, and some truly terrifying interactions with other characters. Hall never falters, and it’s one of the best performances you’re gonna catch in Ottawa this year. All the actors have potent onstage chemistry together, and it makes for a particularly potent Streetcar indeed.
A couple of things don’t work so well…there’s a recurring bit involving a piece of music that just never plays as well as it should, sounding more like an audio glitch than a haunting melody. And the set changes between scenes could be glaringly long, especially notable in as long a show as this (though I’m certain that will get smoothed out and quickened as the run goes on). But overall, Sarah Hearn has put together one of the finest shows I’ve ever seen at OLT, filled with humour, passion and heartbreak and all that good business. And holy blue freaking Hannah, the costumes..! A tough show, and hard to watch in places for all the right reasons, but more than worth the view. The run has just begun and goes until April 7th, so more than enough time to get your ticket to ride the Streetcar. Which is a terribly, terribly cheesy line to leave off on, and I’m ok with that. Peace, love and soul,
* Isn’t it lucky the streetcar was called ‘Desire’? What a wonderful, theatrical name! I mean, what if it had been called ‘Fatty mcStuffins’ or ‘Poop Gazelle’ something? I think the play might lose some gravitas then. Or maybe not. A rose by any other name, and all that? Food for thought.