by Jody Key – Managing Editor
The works of Tennessee Williams have been a staple of high school and college literature class reading lists for 7 decades. Many of us have read his works, but few opportunities to see these works on the stage have been available–until now. Theatre Buford opened it’s 2019 season this past Friday with the Williams’s classic A Streetcar Named Desire to a sold-out audience and delivered an admirable performance of this classic production.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway in 1947 and was regarded as among the finest plays of the 20th century. Williams plays were edgy for the times in which they were written. He explored themes that were taboo in the minds of many Americans including domestic abuse, dysfunctional families, mental illness, and homosexuality. Audiences appreciated the raw emotion his pen brought to life on the stage, as many could identify with the content. His work has endured the test of time and is as relevant today as it was in the 1940s. During intermission, I overheard several conversations from patrons recalling abuse that occurred in their homes or the homes of their relatives.
This show was a technical delight. Under the direction of Daniel Thomas May and technical director Stephen Trammell, the production captured the time period of the 1940s in authentic fashion. The set by Jamie Bullins was thoughtfully designed, depicting the two-room apartment occupied by Stanley and Stella Kowalski with stairs leading up to the apartments above. Slats in the walls invited in the dramatic lighting effects of Ben Rawson’s light design. Rawson’s use of moonlight and sunrise through the apartment’s window was beautifully realistic, and he captured the mood of each scene perfectly. Costumes by Linda Patterson were also true to the time period.
May also assembled a top-notch cast with several Key-noteworthy performances, the first of which was delivered by Justin Walker as Stanley. Walker masterfully captured the essence of a man who lives his life with unbridled (and at times misdirected) passion. Even though Stanley is the antagonist the audience should abhor, Walker brought emotion to the performance that scratches beyond the surface into the character’s psyche. We see in this villain the immature and insecure child within the man. Walker does an excellent job of presenting a simple person who makes for a much more complex character.
Shakira Demesier turns in a praiseworthy and versatile performance as Stanley and Stella’s upstairs neighbor and landlady, Eunice. She does more than add continuity and exposition to parts of the story. Her sassy style and comedic timing add the perfect touches of humor into heavy subject matter. Conversely, she is able to lend compassion and caring to Stella as well as fiery heat toward Stanley and her husband, Steve when warranted.
Courtney Patterson portrays Blanche, Stella’s destitute older sister who moves in with the Kowalskis under false pretenses in the hopes of turning over a new leaf. Blanche is haunted by the skeletons of her past and the wrong choices she’s made along the way. Courtney plays Blanche honorably, exposing the layers of this complex character at just the appropriate times.
Stephanie Friedman’s Stella is deserving of praise. In other productions, I’ve seen Stella portrayed as the meek victim, tiptoeing around her husband, cowering under his strong hand, and pitifully making excuses for him to her overbearing sister. Friedman’s portrayal of Stella as a strong woman who is able to stand up for herself and more capable of defending her circumstances brings a new admiration to the character. While the audience knows things she doesn’t and feels for her, we don’t pity her. I’ve left other productions feeling Stella will be stuck in this relationship because she’s too frightened to leave. With this production, I left with the hope that someday Stella will be strong enough to leave Stanley, which was much more satisfying.
The final analysis of this production of Streetcar is Theatre Buford has put together a solid performance of a classic tale. Whether you’re seeing it for the first time or visiting the story again, you will be pleased with the takeaway.
A Streetcar Named Desire plays from February 15th – March 3rd. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 770-907-2740 or online at www.bufordcommunitycenter.com