By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Blanche DuBois (Ponny Conomos Jahn) finds herself at the end of the line (literally and figuratively) when she steps of the trolley in search of her sister, Stella (Jena Oberg) in Tennessee Williams’ classic tale, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
The faded southern belle leaves her plantation Belle Reve and enters a small, ramshackle neighborhood – just outside of the French Quarter in New Orleans – named Elysian Fields. It’s a far cry from poetic Elysian Fields of myth and memory. In a tenement – in this ironically named parish – Blanche reunites with Stella. There, in the squalor of her new surroundings, Blanche finally meets her sister’s husband, Stanley Kowalski (Buddy Wickerham).
Blanche finds him boorish and brutish. Stanley does not receive his sister-in-law with open arms. They are wary of each other, like cats circling one another, fighting for the same patch of sunlight.
It’s a big adjustment for the downtrodden DuBois sister as she goes from antebellum to urban. She has fits of panic and needs the occasional glass of liquor to soothe her nerves. Lying! She goes through bottles and bottles of it. Her only salvation comes in the form of a gentleman caller, Mitch (Gregory Caridi), or so it seems.
While Blanche has a tragic backstory, she twists it to her advantage, particularly in the presence of younger men. She obfuscates, prevaricates and humiliates Kowalski. Stanley, however, is determined to destroy her.
Spoilers – even though the play is nearly seventy years old – Stanley does triumph. He pins her down on the mat like a studio wrestler. It’s one devastating blow after another. He destroys her relationship with Mitch, damages her relationship with her sister and finally…rapes her on his marriage bed. She has a psychotic break with reality and both of the Kowalski’s agree to ship her off to a sanitarium. It’s a bitter end to the bitter queen of Belle Reve.
While there were a few shaky lines on opening night, Conomos Jahn does a spectacular job as the sultry and sullen southerner. She delightfully dominates in every scene – as any Blanche DuBois should.
Like Stanley everyone should be shouting Stella, or in this case Jena. Oberg does an amazing job. Make no mistake, Stella is culpable for Blanche’s fate as well. Oberg shows an incredible range of emotion making the final scene heart-wrenching.
Wickerham burns with intensity.
There’s a stellar(STELLA!) job from the rest of the cast: Aleta Richmond, Sadie Crow, Jared Pfennigwerth, Arjun Kumar, Shawn White (not the flame-haired snowboarder) and Dewayne Curry.
Art DeConciliis does a fine job directing his menagerie of actors.
There is an overabundance of scenery that obscures views of this bright and energetic cast. Almost all Little Lake Theatre productions are performed in the round, and that’s always going to be an issue, but a little bit less scenery could have mitigated the problem.
Also, the music and sound production overpowered the dialogue in some critical moments. I want to hear these wonderful lines spoken by this cast!
Note: On opening night, a set of rowdy theater-goers decided to make their own merriment and performed their own spoken word pieces through the majority of the second act, even after being shushed. If you can’t keep your trap shut, stay home and watch the movie version. It was Stanley Kowalski’s night to handle all the rude and uncouth behavior. Don’t overshadow his barbarism with your own!
“Memories,” by Panic! In the Disco, goes, “And it was beautifully depressing, like a streetcar named Desire. They were fighting for their love that had started growing tired.” Williams’ story is exactly that; beautifully depressing. Melancholy – artfully done.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” runs until July 28 at the Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg, PA 15317. For more information, click here.