I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth…
- Blanche Dubois
Well, our Streetcar has begun its journey, and so far it’s been wonderful. We had a little trouble with the lights this first weekend, but that’s par for the course in a building that was wired 70+ years ago. In trying to keep the lights on we were unable to run the fan, which gave the audience an even more immersive experience; it really felt like the Big Easy in there.
Yet and still, despite the slight glitches, this looks like the beginning of a wonderful run. Heather Clark’s costumes are utterly sumptuous; Curt Layman and Jim Campbell have created another amazing set; Michael Stansbery gave us a glorious lighting scheme, and Bob Morsch’s sound provides just the right atmosphere, transporting us back to 1940’s New Orleans. The standing ovation on opening night leads us to believe that our audience got what we were hoping to give them.
Our actors, too, have really risen to the occasion. This is a grueling play to perform. Williams knows how to entrance an audience better than maybe anyone – but he does it by demanding more of his actors than most playwrights. His work is hard work. Both Stanley and Blanche are technical tightropes on which a performer must balance carefully to avoid falling into caricature. We’ve got an amazing cast, from our doctor, Phil Ginsburg - local poet, playwright and Most Interesting Man in the Springs - to our young, young, young young man, Ethan Durant Childress, a brand-spanking-new actor, 14 years old and quite the find.
This show is profoundly sentimental to me; I played Blanche the first time when I was 16, in Miss Hester’s 11th-grade English class. Since then I have yearned for the opportunity to approach it again, for real this time. I came to know Tennessee Williams first from the great actor and director Bob Pinney, who understood him and his women completely and lovingly and translated that understanding to his actors and audience with shining clarity. I played Laura in his Glass Menagerie a thousand years ago, an experience so deep and rich that the chord it struck in me continues to resound as strongly today as it did then. Williams’ work isn’t just literature or theatre: it’s truth.
Every decade ought to have its own Streetcar. Every so often theatergoers ought to have the chance to see quintessential works like this done live, and a new generation of actors should have the opportunity to approach these iconic roles. Works as true and enduring, as enormous as this one, don’t need updating or reinterpreting; we, the actors, the directors, the sound designers and set-builders, have the responsibility of meeting the challenge with reverence and honesty. We aren’t arrogant enough to think we bring life to pieces like this; they have a life of their own, so vast and vibrant that all we can do is jump in and do our best.