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Staging Streetcar  

TheatreWorks production features lectures and a mature cast

click to enlarge Gene Gillette and Jane Fromme light up the stage as Stanley and Blanche.
  • Gene Gillette and Jane Fromme light up the stage as Stanley and Blanche.

Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire is up there with Beethoven's Ode to Joy, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Everyone can hum a few bars.

In addition to boasting a Pulitzer Prize and a classic 1951 movie version that was nominated for 12 Oscars, Streetcar has also achieved the ultimate pop culture cachet -- those wacky writers on The Simpsons turned it into a musical, complete with a full-scale choral revue based on the famous line "You can always depend on the kindness of strangers" and a shirtless Ned Flanders singing "Can't you hear me yell-a? Stella! Stella!"

This weekend, UCCS TheatreWorks will open its version of Streetcar, and those involved understand that it's no play to be trifled with.

Set in the jazz hub New Orleans, the play explores the relationships that arise when Blanche DuBois, a Southern belle with an unsavory past, comes to stay with her sister, Stella, and her husband Stanley Kowalski. Blanche is a lover of illusion who has become a victim of her own imagination. The three spend a sweltering summer in a small apartment, during which Blanche's numerous lies catch up to her, and Stanley's fiery temper ultimately leads to a violent climax.

A Streetcar Named Desire has been credited as the first in-depth exploration of the blue-collar psyche, but the themes it explores are brutal, timeless and, unfortunately, universal. There are explicit examples of machismo, alcoholism, violence, self-deception, xenophobia and classism, most of which are never resolved.

In the interest of furthering insight into this great work and these issues, TheatreWorks will sponsor a Speaker Series on Sundays at 3 p.m. before the matinee showing. UCCS professor Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky will take on the topic of "Blanche DuBois as a Bad Girl," a representative from local nonprofit T.E.S.S.A. will discuss domestic violence in the play, and CC professor Tom Lindblade will discuss gender roles and stereotypes.

In a play as well known and frequently performed as Streeetcar, it would be easy for the actors to neglect or gloss over the undertones of Williams' psychological portraits. TheatreWorks has assembled a cast of seasoned actors sure to rise to the challenge of going beyond conventional performance, as witnessed in a recent rehearsal.

Jane Fromme (Blanche) takes the part of a hysterical woman and makes her sympathetic, coquettish and even a little bit humorous. Ashley Crockett (the helpful upstairs neighbor Eunice Hubbel) and her infectious cackle provide much-needed moments of comic relief. Laura Tesman (Stella) gives an understated performance that showcases Stella's innocence and unending patience with Blanche. Gene Gillette (Stanley) has a self-righteous smirk that lends a deceptively personable air to the character that makes his volatile eruptions wholly contemptible.

All of the action takes place in the Kowalskis' two-room apartment in the French Quarter. Accordingly, the set is understated, with some bright colors offsetting the dull and dim surroundings. Sound cues and lighting designed by New York lighting designer Julie Seitel will add the sounds and shiny lights of New Orleans to the stage. Director Murray Ross described his approach as "relying on the Williams text, which is very cinematic in many ways. But we're also bringing the feel of jazz into the play."

-- Bettina Swigger

capsule

A Streetcar Named Desire

Presented by TheatreWorks at the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Cragwood Drive

April 16 through May 9, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday matinees at 2 p.m., Sunday at 4 p.m.

Tickets $20; free with UCCS student ID.

Join the pre-show happy hour in the theater lobby on Fridays from 5:30-7:30 p.m. ($5 donation)

Saturdays after the 2 p.m. matinee, spend an Afternoon with the Actors, a question-and-answer session.

Sundays at 3 p.m., enjoy the speaker series.

Call 262-3232 or visit www.uccstheatreworks.com for more.

  • TheatreWorks production features lectures and a mature cast

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