Monday, July 04, 2011

A Streetcar Named Desire

Jessica Hecht
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Jessica Hecht has everything an actress could need to be a brilliant Blanche DuBois: talent, sensitivity, compassion, and intelligence. That's why her performance in A Streetcar Named Desire at Williamstown is so puzzling. To say that it is monochromatic doesn't sufficiently describe its lack of luster. This Blanche is sullen, one-note, and frequently unintelligible. This Blanche can barely be bothered to manipulate Stanley or fight for her life.

Not that Sam Rockwell as Stanley is any better. There's nothing theoretically wrong with having a bantam-weight Stanley. I can imagine James Cagney in the role with no problem. But Rockwell's performance is also monochromatic and sullen, and the only way his Stanley could get colored lights going would be by plugging in a Christmas tree. By the time Stanley is trying to stop the large, robust Mitch (nicely played by David Stewart Sherman) from going into the room where Blanche is, any suspension of disbelief is long gone, and it's hard not to laugh at the little guy supposedly restraining the big one.

While it can be difficult to tell from the audience where the director's responsibility ends and the actors' begins, it seems likely that director David Cromer supported, if not requested, these desultory performances. Cromer's aim seems to have been to get in the way of the show as much as possible, from lighting scenes with a single lightbulb, to setting up seats so that each section of the audience is forced to miss something important, to allowing a character to garble an entire joke with a cigarette in his mouth, to carefully casting the four main characters (the fourth, Ana Reeder as Stella, brought little to the table) so that no one has chemistry with anyone else.

I love Streetcar. I have seen six different productions. If this had been my first one, I wouldn't even know that it's a good play.

($35 including fee, not including cost of trip to Williamstown; sat on stage)

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