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Stella!!!: 'A Streetcar Named Desire'

Updated classic heats up the stage at the Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall

Posted: January 30, 2009 11:54 a.m.
Updated: January 30, 2009 1:03 p.m.

Erin Michaels plays Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Repertory East Playhouse. Director Brad Sergi said he "spiced up the sexuality and volume to bring it (the play) up to what we're used to." Well-cast, the updated classic works well, taking you through a full range of emotions.

As Escape editor, one of my favorite duties is covering our local theater productions.

Now, I'm not a theater aficionado, not a critic and, truthfully, not all that educated on who wrote what when, how long "Cats" played in Idaho or how many times "Phantom" has appeared "for the last time."

I just like to be entertained.

And, good lord, if you can make me laugh, or maybe even better, bring a tear to my eye, well, then you pretty much own me.

Toss in convenience, say, something like staying within 10 miles of my house, getting to park 30 feet from the theater (with the restaurant next door) and a low-priced ticket - then the play is definitely "the thing."

(I had to Google that to be sure it actually came from a famous line. I got lucky. It's from Hamlet.)

This past weekend I got a tasty dose of this convenient entertainment, right here in Old Town Newhall.

Friday night was the opening of "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Repertory East Playhouse.

Blanche DuBois wants things to come easy. And when they don't, she tries to charm her way to shortcuts. And the shortcuts always backfire.

I know a couple people like that. Maybe we all know a Blanche DuBois. Maybe we all are her, in a way. Or, maybe we're all the good-hearted and misused Mitch, or the long-suffering Stella - or, God forbid, the explosive Stanley.

Maybe we've been all of them at one time. And maybe that's why Tennessee Williams' play is a classic. It resonates deep in the soul.

Director Brad Sergi's handling of this originally 1940s-classic is what he describes as "contemporized tradition." He said he "spiced up the sexuality and volume to bring it up to what we're used to." That includes things that would never happen in the 1940s.

Be assured, this is an adult offering. There is plenty of screaming, violence and some sexual scenes that would make you squirm in your seat if you brought grandma.

But it all works. The play takes you on an emotional roller-coaster ride. You want to laugh, cry, scream with the characters or wring their necks. You see their terrible flaws and know the damage they'll do. You know the train wrecks are coming but you can't stop them.

And, in the end, you understand.

The casting is spot-on. Erin Michaels is Blanche DuBois, a woman caught between the belle-life she wants to lead (and pretends to) and the promiscuous alcoholic she has become by always seeking to charm her way up the ladder instead of really doing something to get there.

Blanche reaches her peak of twisted, infuriating insanity when she practically rapes a young collector (Nolan LeGault as same), then, soon after, plays the virgin to the man she hopes to manipulate into marrying her (Jack Impellizzeri, as Mitch).

Ted Jonas plays the beefy, insecure and explosive Stanley Kowalski perfectly. Even if his shirt didn't come off in every other scene, you'd still feel his muscular threat. He sizes Blanche up right away, yet still can't resist his animal attraction to her.

You understand his motives, though, and find yourself feeling sorry for him because he can't rise above.

Nicole Dionne plays Stella Kowalski, Stanley's wife and Blanche's sister, nicely. She does her utmost to keep the peace and stay happy despite the mayhem going on around her.

She is the play's true center and the one person you feel will prosper in the end, despite everything.

You hope that maybe, with Blanche out of the way, Stanley will calm down and be the man Stella thinks he is. Of course you know better, and fear for that baby.

Jack Impellizzeri plays Harold Mitchell, "Mitch," with the sweet density the character requires at first. And you find yourself cheering for him when he finally wises up to Blanche's manipulations.

Ending up without Blanche is the best thing that could happen to him.

Lori D'Itri plays Eunice Hubbell and Tyrone Washington plays Steve Hubbell, the couple who live above the Kowalskis. As they alternately fight with each other and make up and pass through the set, they sometimes provide counterpoint to what the other characters are doing, or comic relief.

You have to love these two.

Carlo Pietrosanti, as poker-buddy Pablo Gonzales, makes the most of his few moments on stage, as do LeGault, Bill Quinn as the doctor and Laura Clark Greaver as the nurse.

However, it is Mary Watson, as Mazzie, who knits the whole production together. Though she has small parts in the action, as the "Greek chorus" in the play, she belts out throaty, bluesy songs to emphasize the theme of each scene, such as "Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine." She sings a cappella - and wow!

So take a night at the REP with "Streetcar." You'll feel so much better about your own life after.


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