Friday, April 24, 2009

Streetcar Review - Wheaton Drama

The following review was written by Christopher Hickman:

I was blown away by Wheaton Drama's A Streetcar Named Desire running through April 26, 2009 at Playhouse 111.

Whether you have seen it or not, we all know of this classic of American theater given us by the great Tennessee Williams. But if you are going to see it done on stage, do yourself the favor of seeing it soon during this production at Wheaton Drama.

Be warned-- the following review has plenty of spoilers. Avoid reading further if you do not wish to know too much about the story before having the chance to see it for yourself.

Craig Witt as Stanley gave the role his own style; he was not trying to be Brando and the show suffered not a wit for this. When first meeting Blanche in Act I, he was gruff but friendly only becoming contentious when he learned his sister-in-law had somehow lost the family estate. He was genuinely cruel to Blanche after hearing her speak about his "primitive" nature. This cruelty built and by the third act, he had sunk horribly low. I saw a lot of potential in Mr. Witt.

Suzanne Reeves as Stella was always emotionally right on the money. This lady could cry subtly and exactly when appropriate. That is difficult for any actor to pull off and she did it with what seemed like ease. I wanted to protect Stella many times; all due to a great performance. The strength she forced herself to show when preparing Blanche for the asylum rang hauntingly true to life. And when she finally broke down, weeping as her big sister was led away, much of the audience joined her.

I really liked James Griffin as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell. He had the character down just right and made it his. He was great as the kindly, good hearted and loyal friend, and good son. He totally won the audience over as the nervous, frustrated suitor. And when he fell into darkness after learning of Blanche's past, he did it with real prowess. At first he played the drunk, angry and hurt guy quite well. By the time he got aggressive with Blanche, Mr. Griffin did a great job of showing how Mitch was new to this dark side, but a quick learner.

Jennifer Myers as Blanche hurt me with one of the best performances I have ever seen on stage. I have seen ladies in classes and workshops trying to deliver some of Blanche's monologues, often with painful results, while some were pretty good. Ms. Myers was fantastic because she became Blanche. From her first appearance she played eccentric very convincingly and found a way to go into monologues that just seemed right for that character. She portrayed a woman you could believe actually spoke that way. Her performance in Act III will haunt me for years. During her final confrontation with Stanley, when she begged him to move out of the way so she could leave the house, I swear she transformed into a terrified little girl.

I believe we all have seen children frightened by storms, cruel bigger kids and other fears. That was why my gut sank when Ms. Myers delivered her terrified plea for Stanley to move, because I knew there was no adult around to step in and remove the cruel, tormenting child. And Blanche went down emotionally from there, while reaching greater heights of frenzied terror.

In the final scene, as the ladies were preparing Blanche to go off to the hospital, I could actually feel an irrepressible sorrow building in the audience. We were at the mercy of the scene and it had little to give - that is until the doctor smiled kindly at Blanche and gave her back a measure of her dignity. It was not a mercy for her alone.

By the time Blanche delivered her beautifully executed final line - that great cliché of American theater - I nearly gasped and lost it. But I did manage to get out of the theater without using a tissue. Not an easy task and one that required much breath control, blinking... and perhaps the use of a cattle prod, though I admit to nothing.

Director, Charles A. Berglund, deserves credit for not only putting together a great cast and doing an excellent job directing this American classic, but also for effectively utilizing the big wide space that is Wheaton Drama's stage area. One little feature that spoke to this point was the lack of reflective glass in the bedroom table mirror. I noticed this particularly because I was seated in what could have been a bad seat for the show, but was not. This is because, for certain scenes, the mirror would have blocked my view of the stage action. The thoughtful removal of the glass allowed me to see everything and I can truly say there is not a bad seat in the theater for this show. I went so far as to ask the director about the missing glass and he verified my guess that he had it removed to give every audience member a view of the action on stage. I thought it worth mentioning, though that really is the least of what Mr. Berglund, cast and crew accomplished in this production.

This was a great show for even a professional theater to have put on, and yet this was community theater. As stated before, I was blown away. To anyone who appreciates very well-done drama, I highly recommend seeing contacting Playhouse 111 to reserve your chance to see their current production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

To learn more and reserve your spot, follow the link below:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saw "Streetcar"

Last night Margie & I saw A Streetcar Named Desire at Wheaton Drama. The majority of the cast is really good, except for Jennifer Myers as Blanche. She's not good, she is transcendent. We saw the Steppenwolf production with Gary Sinise as Stanley. Jen is better than Steppenwolf's Blanche.

Chuck Berglund's direction never lets the show drag, which with this show is a major concern.

James Griffin is a good, solid Mitch. He doesn't disappear into Blanche's shadow (except when he is supposed to.)

Craig Witt is strong and menacing as Stanley. My only problem (and this is a directing thing, I think, rather than an acting thing) is that he's always strong and menacing. There are levels, but generally within the range of strong and menacing. When Stanley offers to bury the hatchet with Blanche, he's sincere -- he's in a good mood. That's why it's tragic that the offer comes too late for her to rationally accept it. It was played here as just another cruelty. For what he was asked to do, however, it's a terrific performance.

The set design (Penny Salvesen) & set dec (Marc Ludena) are better than most professional sets, as always. Aimee Kennedy's costumes are beautifully done.

The flores para los muertos look like flores para los toyland (which is really jarring), but if that's the worst thing I can say about a show, we're talking about a hit.

The majority of what is being presented is thoughtfully created and extremely well-done.

Jennifer Myers' performance as Blanche knocks it over the edge into Must See. There are very few theatrical performances for which I will get off my feet during curtain call as a mark of respect. Jen got Margie, me and many others standing up. I'm not kidding here, people -- it's a genius performance.

For ticket information: