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Genesian Theatre Company: A Streetcar Named Desire - Review by Daniel Conway

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

There are a few stories that have become so ingrained in the zeitgeist and so iconic that you feel like you know them even if you haven’t seen them. You don’t ever need to have seen Psycho to know the shot of Janet Leigh, the knife, and the shower. You have seen that scene and heard those chords recounted and recycled throughout the media for 50 years. But I challenge that unless you have seen the film, you don’t really know how rich the text is. The same can be said about A Streetcar Named Desire. If you have never seen this show, you don’t know about the heartbreaking tale of a woman who has been broken by the world; odds are you just know Marlan Brando screaming Stella in a torn shirt.

Genesian Theatre Company has done an exceptional job of bringing the Tennessee Williams classic to life. Directors Tom Massey and Meg Girdler and their team have done a fantastic job of crafting the performance with so much care and nuance. Alluded in the director's note to this need for nuance in approaching this text. Texts are of their time; gender politics, language, and choice of subject matter don’t always age well, but Massey and Girdler are right that this story is an exploration of the evils in our world and needs to be told in order to deal with them. This play is confronting and includes depictions and conversations of domestic and sexual violence, which I believe the cast and crew have taken seriously, and the show is richer for their approach.

From a technical point of view, this production was a success. The costumes designed by Susan Carveth were stunning and era-appropriate. I was impressed with Soham Apte’s set. This play has specific set requirements written into it, and the Geneisian’s stage is only so big. They included every key component, and it looked amazing. The choice of music designed by Michael Scheil and its use of transition were also well done. I do question if some scenes would have benefited from a beat of silence to maintain tension, but the use of volume to indicate the passage of time was really clear and effective.

There are certain roles that actors love because they are so rich, and for many, Blanche Dubois is one of those roles. Georgia Britt does an outstanding job. We see this woman go from just keeping it together to fully unravelling, and at each moment she is enthralling. She was frenetic and anxious, making it clear that this is a woman who is afraid. But the moments that Brit’s skill shone were the moments when she was still. Where the mask falls and the pain is real. Brit is a powerhouse and worth the price of admission alone.

Remember when we talked about Brando and his screaming? How do you match that? The answer is that you don’t. You create something new and tell your own story. That is exactly what Riley McNamara does as Stanley Kowalski. His cruel and insecure masculinity oozes from McNamara’s physicality. By the end of the play, you can’t help but hate this man, and I mean this as a compliment; McNamara earns that hate.

Ali Bendall is so grounded as Stella. Stella is not as fragile as Blanche, but she is still a victim of the times and circumstances. Bendall gives Stella warmth and depth, and she truly shines when she shares the stage with Britt. Her final moments in the play are captivating; she is a beautiful crier.

The last of the larger roles is played by Matthew Doherty. His depiction of Harold Michell makes it clear how good Doherty is at physical storytelling. So much is said by the way he holds his body and by how he looks and reacts. He is so present in the moment and makes you believe he is the character. I was impressed at how he can transition from unassuming to aggressive.

The cast is rounded out by Rosie Daly, Patrick Gallagher, Shaun Loratet, and Jenny Jacobs. Each performer does a good job of bringing this world to life and helping to fill this truly sad tableau.

In case you missed the tone of the show from the review so far, I am going to make it more plain. I can’t say I enjoyed the show, not because it was bad; it was amazing. I can’t say I enjoy it because how can one enjoy seeing a woman brutalised and broken by the world? How can you enjoy a man taking delight in recounting her crimes, both moral and actual, to her sister? The most correct word was captivated. I was captivated by the skill of the storytelling on stage.

This is a long play with sensitive content, but it is good theatre and worth it. I give this production a 4 out of 5 (no cute rating this time, it would feel disrespectful).

Photos courtesy of Luke Holland.

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