'Streetcar' heats up the CNY Playhouse

Blanche (Jodie Baum) and Stanley (Jordan Glaski) share a smoke in CNYP's A Streetcar Named Desire. Photo: Amelia Beamish. A Streetcar Named Desire Who The Central New York Playhouse Where 3649 Erie Blvd. E, Shoppingtown Mall, Syracuse When Through Feb. 23 Tickets $20; Thursday & Sunday, $15 Review by Eesha Patkar

The opening performance of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Central New York Playhouse was not without a few hiccups. At times uncomfortable and slightly unreal, this production could have fallen apart if not for the tenacious cast and the sheer power that is Tennessee Williams’ script.

Sixty-six years after it first hit Broadway, A Streetcar Named Desire continues to be a ravaging testament to man-woman relations, the dynamics of dominance and subservience and the penultimate repercussions of misogyny.

Blanche DuBois, an aging Southern belle, arrives at the dingy house of her sister Stella Kowalski in New Orleans, bringing a whirlwind of drama and insanity with her. Her false pretentions of virtue and refinement—much like her jewelry and furs—cause rancor with Stella’s brute of a husband Stanley.

Aided by continual imbibing, Blanche’s strong-willed but equally flighty presence constantly reminds Stanley of his own “uncouth” and “savage” nature. More importantly, she poses a threat to the twisted marital and sex life he has with Stella. She’s deprived him of any inheritance he might have had from his wife’s share of their Southern plantation in Laurel, Miss.

When Blanche catches the fancy of Stanley’s bumbling poker buddy Mitch, he decides he has had enough and exposes the real Blanche and the dark, horrifying veneers of her past.

Ever since the show’s original production, there have been many interpretations of Blanche, Stanley and the entire premise of Streetcar at various directors’ hands. Actors have portrayed Blanche in varying degrees from a sympathetic victim to a shrewish deviant.

Jordan Glaski (Stanley) and Sara Caliva (Stella) in CNYP's A Streetcar Named Desire. Photo Amelia Beamish.

In the CNY Playhouse production, Director Patricia Catchouny’s treatment of Blanche is a considerate, heartfelt one. Played by Jodie Baum, this Southern femme fatale’s capricious and coy flirtations as she spirals into self-destruction evoke a healthy amount of compassion. For what more is she, than a scared and desolate woman negotiating her own survival? Baum successfully delivers the tumultuous pace of the dialogue, effectively balancing the kittenish man-eating parts with the mad, shrieking ones.

Marlon Brando forever immortalized Stanley Kowalski in the original production. Those are hard shoes to fill for any actor who follows, and Jordan Glaski does his best. His sneering hostility toward Blanche and brutish ministrations of Stella are painful to watch from a 21st century feminist mindset. If not for his accent, which slips up from its Southern rendition, Glaski’s Stanley and his terrible rages are quite engrossing.

Sara Caliva as Stella and Robert Fullenbaum as Mitch bring up the theatrical rear well with their authentic portrayals.

But while individual performances take definite merit, the tense chemistry underlying the opposing forces of Blanche and Stanley is lost in this performance. A Streetcar Named Desire is driven by the fierce yin and yang. The Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies of Blanche and Stanley that are at loggerheads with each other, but fail to come into play in CNY Playhouse’s production.

It definitely didn’t help that some lighting and musical cues were missed. Poorly coordinated transitions from scene to scene and often misdirected light effects are the kind of awkward intrusions that threaten to break the fourth wall, pulling the audience right out of the tempo of the play into jarring reality. Red strobe lights and audio embellishments punctuating Blanche’s climactic breakdown seem surreal in this period piece.

Despite these hitches, CNY Playhouse gives an enthusiastic production.