Review: 'Streetcar' glows with great performances

What: Tennessee Williams masterpiece about a faded Southern belle on a collision course with reality

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday & Sunday; 3 p.m. matinées Saturday and Sunday

Where: Cultural Park Theater, 528 Cultural Park Blvd., Cape Coral; Web site

Tickets: $16, seniors $15, children $12

Reservations: (239) 772-5862

Directions: I-75 or U.S. 41 to Colonial Boulevard heading west over the Midpoint Bridge. Turn north on Country Club Boulevard, which is the second major intersection, slightly more than 2 miles past the bridge. Turn left on Nicholas Boulevard, then right on Cultural Park Boulevard (which is also known as Jack Boulevard) to the theater.

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Video from YouTube
Video from YouTube
Video from YouTube

— "A Streetcar Named Desire" rumbles into Cultural Park Theatre in Cape Coral on a cloud of magnolias and liquor and cheap perfume. It rumbles back out, depending not on the kindness of strangers but a trio of superb performances that glow when lit by words from Tennessee Williams' masterwork.

"Streetcar," Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play published in 1947, breathes life into an iconic culture clash. Dissipated Southern belle Blanche DuBois (Annette Trossbach) and working-class Stanley Kowalski (Michael Dunsworth) spar, their characters a proxy battle for the genteel old world falling to the industry of post-war America.

The Broadway production, starring Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden ran for two years. Vivien Leigh replaced Tandy as Blanche in the 1951 film that was nominated for 12 Oscars, winning four.

Blanche DuBois exists as one of the great character of stage, screen and page. Tennessee Williams uses Blanche's struggles with reality to examine both social change in America (Stanley is both an immigrant and Polish) and the ability of the human mind to shelter, to deceive and retreat into fantasy. Blanche doesn't want to hurt anyone - she just can't face the music; life is unfortunately never that kind.

Director Louise Wigglesworth and her actors deliver a solid, watchable and fulfilling show. Audiences shouldn't expect a slavish recreation of the film - which edited out some of the harsher elements to fit the morals of 1951.

Trossbach creates an original Blanche spun from shaken nerves, moth-eaten furs, gossamer dresses, iron will and little else. The character pulses with a sad nobility as she knocks back drinks, waves frail, pale, thin white arms in nervous patterns and babbles on - quick to fill the air with fantasy on top of fantasy and push back the darkness of reality.

No actor wants to follow in the footsteps of Marlon Brando, yet Michael Dunsworth does - with skill. His Stanley tears into the scenery with fierce abandon, his dinner with animalistic glee and into poor sad Blanche a brutal fury that Williams only hints at in the script. Dunsworth and Trossbach's scenes sear the stage with rage and tension.

Nykkie Rizley Ptaszek's Stella breathes with flat-voiced, whiny life. Caught between duty to her sister and burning desire for her husband, she vacillates, trying to appease both. Ptaszek captures Stella's vulnerability and innate intelligence; unlike Blanche, Stella comprehends the changing times. Patricia Clopton (Eunice) and Randy Dawkins (Steve) give an excellent comic turn as screeching, brawling neighbors.

Creatively, the show feels a tiny bit underdone - although much of that may be attributed to the limits of what's technically available in community theater. Many of the extensive sound cues Williams references in his script are cut. The absence isn't critical and what's there is effective (a devastating scene with a flower seller that heralds the final passing of so many things ...), but the sounds offer a sense of the vitality and life of New Orleans - flavors that don't always make it into this sauce.

Dawkins' set recreates the Kowalski apartment with loving attention to details like an icebox, gauzy curtains and an old metal fan, but the space lacks a certain claustrophobic air. Granted, the actors need room to move about the stage, but the physical space doesn't quite work hand in hand with the performances to communicate the boiling tension of the Kowalski apartment.

Lighting - with bare bulbs a metaphor for harsh reality - scores, as do the uncredited costumes. Trossbach gets faded pinks and washed-out blues for her aging doyenne while Dunsworth gets vivid primary colors - visual clues to his character's vitality and primacy.

"Streetcar" features performances that sizzle in the sultry heat of New Orleans. Trossbach's Blanche natters and dithers as she tries to prolong her days of glory and subtract a shattered past. Dunsworth chews everything but the scenery and Ptaszek burns with a quiet fire. Don't miss Trossbach's wobbly, breathy monologue about Blanche's husband's death.

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. E-mail me, csilk@naplesnews.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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