A Streetcar Named Desire: Violence, Sexual Abuse and Mental Health

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The classic play by Tennessee Williams, “A Streetcar Named Desire’’ is brought back to life By Soulpepper’s new artistic director Weyni Mengesha. Soulpepper’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire is still loyal to the script of the traditional play but mangesha’s new outlook is apparent and not to be missed. Soulpepper did not intend to recreate the play but to infuse their own perspective to liven this classic play. This production of the Tennessee Williams is diverse, from an inclusive cast to the set design and live band music.

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The classic play is about Blanche Dubois (Amy Rutherford), who brings a baggage of loss and brokenness from a troubled past in Mississippi. She steps feet in New Orleans with expectations to stay with her sister Stella Kowalski (Leah Doz) and her sister’s husband Stanley (Mac Fyfe), only to have those expectation crushed and thrown out the window. Reality unveils all secrets and brings forth the truth to the table. Her sister is living in a rundown apartment within a dingy neighborhood, far from the usual life of comfort and stability Blanche was used to. Blanche soon sees through the charming ways of Stella’s husband Stanley and discovers his true nature, while Stanley also sees through the games and disguise of Blanche. Both seeing the truth in each other, the pair’s relationship and conflicts become an important element that drives the play.

The gist of the play is a story of troubled people coexisting in a harsh reality. Coming from different national backgrounds, the cast of the play changes the dynamic of the traditional play. The actors successfully come together to create an intimate and soft atmosphere within that metallic exterior. Brings forth themes of violence, and racism as well as contrasting moods of softness and bitterness which adds texture to the overall performance.

Mengesha’s game-changing version of the original play announces itself right off the bat. While the stage remains empty, the play kicks off by drawing the audience right in, both by introducing an inclusive cast and foreshadowing Blanche Dubois’s (Amy Rutherford) chaotic mind. The heart jumping entry is brought by a storm of live music. The rest of the cast barges in with pieces of the set while assembling it around Blanche. This works because it gives the feel of both living in the city and the chaotic inner world of Blanche. Mengesha found a beautiful balance between the opposition of poetry and realism, without ever seeming melodramatic.

The live band gave a significant touch and magic to the play. SATE and the rest of the band directed by Mike Ross add an important spirited touch to the performance. Playing a variety of numbers that fit right in with the play transforming many scenes. One of the many lively scenes, The segment where Stanley and his buddies have their drunkard poker night; the accompaniment of the band works effortlessly, as the light changes to a soft yet violent red, revealing a hidden garage door that slides up to give away the band playing a jazz number seamlessly.

The set design followed the template of the traditional play yet many aspects of it were complex in nature. The set designer, Lorenzo Savoini’s decision of putting these old rusty metal-like walls is one example, they gave off a feel of the city and poverty that the characters lived in. The metal walls also seemed cold and harsh in contrast with the life and vulnerability that the characters lived between. These panels also occasionally slid open to reveal a brick wall and a hot-blooded band. The use of levels on the stage is also excellent because of how the neighbor Eunice’s (Akosua Amo-Adem) apartment seems to look over from above, showcasing the lack of privacy and boundaries between the characters. The proscenium theatre was perfect for the play. The theatre space was well used, the band and cast occasionally marched in the aisles, giving the audience a more personal feeling and understanding of both the character and play. Giving each seat an advantage view to the play.

The characters were all well played, as each role seemed natural to the actors and each actor seemed to have made relation to the act which made this play all that more unique. First of all Gregory Prest who played Mitch, embodied the character’s naivety and awkwardness, while keeping it charming towards Blanche, helping you but to fall in love with the character. Akosua Amo-Adem who played Eunice gave a new template to the character who she successfully impersonated. As well as Leah Doz who played Stella showed sincere vulnerability in her character’s struggle between love for her sister and her husband. The acting was great and felt very authentic and at all cringey.

All the team members of the soulpeper’s show A streetcar named desire were essential pieces to the puzzle. From the direction of Weyni Mengesha, along with set designer Lorenzo Savoini, Music Director Mike Ross, and rest of the team. Everyone came together to create a unique and moving production, bringing new flavors to the table.

The play juggles touchy themes like violence, sexual abuse, and mental health. It is definitely for a mature audience as nothing is censored and is strongly represented. This production undoubtedly gives a new perspective to the troubling story, A streetcar named desire. Overall the play is both startling and heartwarming. Creating both the magic and reality that Tennessee Williams talks about. A standing ovation performance.    

29 April 2022

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