One thing apparent at the Omaha Community Playhouse's Thursday preview of “A Streetcar Named Desire:” Six decades later, Tennessee Williams' 1948 Pulitzer winner has lost none of its dramatic power.
The story of a fallen Southern woman, clinging to sanity behind a mask of refinement that is ripped away by her brutal brother-in-law, feels as shattering now as ever. And the writing is just as sublime.
“I thought this was going to be boring,” one Creighton Prep student told another at intermission in the lobby.
Well, they had just seen Blanche DuBois try to seduce the newspaper collection boy (Isaac Reilly, spot-on), and they were not bored.
But from an opening moment in which Stanley Kowalski bellowed at his bowling buddies at top volume (they're right next to you, Stanley), I kept getting the feeling the production was less powerful because it was overpowered.
Acting that might have worked fine in the mainstage space often felt too big for the more intimate Howard Drew Theatre, where the audience is in the actors' laps. An essential sense of realism, with the delicate shadings of conflicting emotion that fill the characters, came and went.
Teri Fender, as Blanche, clearly telegraphs the high-strung sensibilities of a woman rattled to the core as her past closes in on her. But an awareness of her mental fragility arrived late and felt sudden. Yes, Blanche is putting on an act, but we need to see the layered truths underneath peek out more and more as her desperation builds.
As Stanley, Chad Cunningham captures the animal magnetism, sensuality and brutality of the character so fully, it's something to see. Yet you wish he'd ease up at times. Scenes in which the human, vulnerable side came out were the ones that made the character more interesting, more than a villain.
One performance that felt perfectly calibrated to the space was Leanne Hill Carlson as Stella, Stanley's wife. Carlson goes for broke in more than one believably lustful embrace. That's countered by scenes in which you see Stella torn between Stanley and Blanche, and torn about her relationship with such a self-involved, troublesome sister, or such a callous man. A moment in which she spells out to Blanche what her attraction to Stanley feels like is one of several brilliantly played.
Colton Neidhardt, too, brings a sense of realism to Mitch, Stanley's poker-playing buddy who becomes Blanche's last hope for a stable refuge — until Stanley clues him in on Blanche's sordid past. Neidhardt brings out the best in Fender, as well, particularly in a tender ending to a date.
One other star of this production is guest designer Steven L. Williams' lighting and set, which capture the seedy flavor of a particular New Orleans milieu so well. From the wrought iron and shutters above to the worn-through linoleum below, he gets the details just right in very tight quarters.
In the end, director Amy Lane's show is more than watchable, yet less than it could be with a bit more subtlety and nuance. This “Streetcar,” a freight train of raw power, needs a little braking to hit the sweet spot.
Contact the writer: