A Streetcar Named Desire

1/6
Photograph: Ken Howard

Broadhurst Theatre. By Tennessee Williams. Dir. Emily Mann. With Blair Underwood, Nicole Ari Parker, Daphne Rubin-Vega. 2hrs 45mins. One intermission.

2/6
Photograph: Ken Howard

Broadhurst Theatre. By Tennessee Williams. Dir. Emily Mann. With Blair Underwood, Nicole Ari Parker, Daphne Rubin-Vega. 2hrs 45mins. One intermission.

3/6
Photograph: Ken Howard

Broadhurst Theatre. By Tennessee Williams. Dir. Emily Mann. With Blair Underwood, Nicole Ari Parker, Daphne Rubin-Vega. 2hrs 45mins. One intermission.

4/6
Photograph: Ken Howard

Broadhurst Theatre. By Tennessee Williams. Dir. Emily Mann. With Blair Underwood, Nicole Ari Parker, Daphne Rubin-Vega. 2hrs 45mins. One intermission.

5/6
Photograph: Ken Howard

Broadhurst Theatre. By Tennessee Williams. Dir. Emily Mann. With Blair Underwood, Nicole Ari Parker, Daphne Rubin-Vega. 2hrs 45mins. One intermission.

6/6
Photograph: Ken Howard

Broadhurst Theatre. By Tennessee Williams. Dir. Emily Mann. With Blair Underwood, Nicole Ari Parker, Daphne Rubin-Vega. 2hrs 45mins. One intermission.

Wednesday June 13 2012 20:00
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Let us say that in your production of A Streetcar Named Desire, your audience doesn’t respond as you might hope. There are catcalls for brutal antihero Stanley; there is laughter when he finally turns to rape. Where did you go wrong? If you’re director Emily Mann, look no further than the casting decisions that handed you Blair Underwood as Stanley, ravishing Nicole Ari Parker as Blanche and sulky, shouty Daphne Rubin-Vega as Stella. In this curiously unlived-in Streetcar, the too-glossy cast members treat Tennessee Williams’s masterpiece with an odd mixture of care and camp, their gingerliness as damaging as the lapses into melodrama. The actors deliver clear but blunt portraits, and in the absence of complexity, we come away conscious of only two things—namely, “it’s hot in New Orleans” and “hoo boy, sex.” (Hence the campiness.)

Mann herself doesn’t add naturalistic detail to the characters’ supposedly desperate circumstances, and without that grounding, the text keeps sliding toward soapiness. By the time Stanley explodes at his invasive sister-in-law, no wonder people laugh: He has no more menace than a villain on Days of Our Lives. And yet, the play doesn’t fail: It’s too robust for that. And in casting actors of color, Mann has made the language provocative again, with a dark Stanley furious at being called “ape” by a light-eyed Blanche. It’s thrilling to hear fresh angers bubbling away in a 60-year-old play, but there’s more to Williams than just the boil. I missed a whole range of temperatures—all the way from Streetcar’s initial simmer to its final, awful chill.—Helen Shaw