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February 22, 2019

2/6/2019 1:26:00 PM
Go to Oak Harbor to catch 'Streetcar'

Director Ingrid Schwalbe offers gifts galore in the Whidbey Playhouse’s production of Tennessee Williams’ 1947 Pulitzer-winning “A Streetcar Named Desire,” opening Friday in Oak Harbor. She succeeds at placing you in New Orleans, with black and white photos rotating on the pull down screen between scenes and before the curtain rises showing a French Quarter that is as much 19th as 20th century. The cast’s southern accents ring true to these northern ears.
Schwalbe recruited Valetta Faye, who sings jazz tunes during scene changes in a nod to the play’s French Quarter setting. A professional vocalist, Faye’s performance is a treat.
The two room, first floor apartment with the stairs and balcony for the apartment above show a working class grittiness perhaps foreign to most people reading this. And there is the play itself, a classic in the American canon for the story it tells of lost wealth and culture, the tension between north and south, self-deception and falsehoods to others and the clash between southern gentility, charm and hypocrisy and northern hard bitten realism.
Most of all there is Williams’ script, the tension between Stanley Kowalski (Fernando Duran, strongly physical in the Marlon Brando tradition) and Blanche DuBois (Bridget Sievers, strong and weak, both). The monologues Williams gives Blanche are poetry from a bygone period. There is also hard drinking and hitting of spouses, two social ills prevalent now, as then.
Blanche has taken the Desire streetcar to her sister’s flat at the play’s start. She is running from, and for her life, desperate, having lost her high school teaching position and the family’s Mississippi plantation. The trunk she brings holds her broken dreams and a lifetime of deceptions. She projects beauty but is not a pretty sight. Her relationship with the truth is like her others: not honest.
Stella has married a northerner, a strong, rough, sensual, commoner, not fitting her heritage. She has settled into his working class world of scraping by financially while living a rich life peopled with friends and neighbors who share beers, tears, intimacy and fights.
Blanche excels as a southern belle, but like an old photo, she is faded, avoiding the full light of day. She looks to the past, spinning thin stories. Stanley doesn’t believe her and her insulting treatment angers him.
He checks her story out. There is no spoiler alert: from the beginning is the sense that things will end badly for Blanche. As the play advances and her story comes out, the liquor bottle appears more frequently, too.
The cast is uniformly strong, as often seen at the Whidbey. Their roles are performed with energy and gusto. Stanley’s poker playing companions, and the upstairs couple, Steve (Jim Reynolds) and Eunice (Lisa Judd) are compatriots as well as neighbors.
The nurse (Jackie Davis Strange) and doctor (Ben Honeycutt) only play the last scene, but they carry the play to its completion. The flower seller (Shala Gonzales) brings a melancholy foreboding. Nate Edmiston, as Mitch, possible beau to Blanche, plays shy and slow to anger well.
Sabrina Loomis, Stella, is a recent high school graduate. She handles her major role flawlessly. Stella is the bridge between her sister and husband, loving them and wanting peace. She has as much stage time and presence as her co-stars.
The production and technical support meets the Playhouse’s typical quality from costumes through lighting, music and the set.
“Streetcar” opens Friday and plays through Feb. 24 Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: www.whidbeyplayhouse.com, 360-679-2237.

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• Ken Stern

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