Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
Toll Free: 800-234-6575
'Streetcar' a tense, welcome change for TheatreWorks
Stanley Kowalski (Clif Jones, right) tells Blanche DuBois (Wanda Wingfield) that he knows about her past during a performance of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Black Box Theatre. (Contributed photo)
Friday, September 7, 2012
By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer
It is appropriate that TheatreWorks’ production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” opened on a warm, steamy Thursday night.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” won author Tennessee Williams the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948. The play shows the clash between Blanche DuBois, a fading Southern belle who uses her old-fashioned virtues to mask her delusions and alcoholism, and Stanley Kowalski, husband to Blanche’s meek sister Stella, a gruff, no-nonsense blue-collar worker. Blanche moves into Stella and Stanley’s New Orleans apartment because she says she suffers from upset nerves. In reality, her life back home in Mississippi is falling apart at the seams.
According to Corbin Campbell, TheatreWorks’ artistic director and director of the show, the production is a change of pace for the Black Box Theatre.
With the exception of a production of “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” that was presented at the former county courthouse, the theater group mainly has done comedies and musicals. While “Streetcar” contains humor — and drew several big laughs on opening night — it mainly is a drama.
While it may be slightly different from previous offerings, TheatreWorks “felt it was a story that needed to be told,” said Campbell.
The lead roles are played by Wanda Wingfield as Blanche DuBois, Clif Jones as Stanley Kowalski and Sarah Wardle as Stella Kowalski. The cast also includes David Bishop, Judy Curry, Jamie Donovant, Wes George, Jo Grayson, Max Hall, Kathy Morgan and Tyler Shively.
“Streetcar” marks not only Wingfield’s TheatreWorks debut, but her debut as an actress. Her daughter, Kourtney Merricks, a theater major at James Madison University, encouraged her to audition for a role.
“She said, ‘Maybe you’ll get a job in the background,’” Wingfield said. Instead, she landed the lead role.
Jones, who previously acted in TheatreWorks’ production of “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” plays Stanley. As a classic film buff, he was familiar with the 1951 film version of the play starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando. When it came to inspiration, “In the beginning, it was all about Brando,” he said. “Brando’s performance was about the best.”
“Until tonight,” he added jokingly.
Although Jones likes the character, “Stanley is pretty much opposite of me,” he said. “I don’t agree with the choices he makes.”
Wardle is making her TheatreWorks acting debut as Stella. Previously she played flute in the orchestra pit during the group’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.” According to Wardle, she “jumped in with both feet,” reading literary commentaries of “Streetcar” and watching the film version in an attempt to learn more about the play.
Initially, she thought Kim Hunter, who played Stella in the film version, played her “too nice.” As the rehearsal process continued, she came to see the role differently.
“I certainly understand the struggle to deal with difficult circumstances,” she said. “We’ve all had periods where we’re in denial.”
Thursday’s debut was to a nearly full house.
Theater patron Jack Lafave was impressed with the players.
“This is a tough show to do,” he said. “The actors and actresses are very good. I think they’re doing a great job of it.”
Audience member Pam Allen also noted that the play was “a little different from the comedies and musicals, but I like the difference.”
Performances of “A Streetcar Named Desire” will continue at 7 p.m. today and Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Shows also will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 13-15. The show contains some adult themes and is recommended for mature audiences. Tickets cost $10 and are available at Piedmont Arts.