"Tennessee Williams gives us four vivid and complicated characters, each trying so hard to find happiness", says Mark Baer, director of Streetcar, "It's been my goal to tell each of their stories with equal passion and compassion. Like a jazz quartet, when their stories are played together they call and answer, creating dissonance and harmony. We'll try to play it true for you." The production showcases the talents of four of Festival Theatre’s performers: Festival’s Artistic Director Jaclyn Johnson as Blanche, Josiah Laubenstein as Stanley, Rachel Kuhnle as Stella, and Steven Czajkowski as Mitch. Kimberly Braun will be playing the role of Stella in the September 3 through 6 productions.
Johnson’s portrayal of Blanche is an intimate look into the world of a woman whose life has unraveled through events largely beyond her control. The family home has been lost through a series of what she describes as the “epic fornications” of her male ancestors. Married at a young age to a talented and beautiful young man, her dreams are
shattered when she discovers his past. As the play opens, we find Blanche on her sister’s doorstep and as the action unfolds, we discover that while Blanche holds herself out as a proper and discreet woman, her history is to the contrary, she has lost her position as a teacher and is penniless.
Johnson’s Blanche carries the charm of the southern feminine ideal, but also the fire of revulsion that Blanche feels toward her sister Stella’s choice of her animalistic husband, Stanley. At the end of act one, Blanche describes Stanley: “He acts like an animal, has an animal’s habits! Eats like one, moves like one, talks like one!” It is this speech, overheard by Stanley, that pits Blanche and Stanley in a mortal struggle—she to survive in an increasingly hostile world and he to destroy her in order to preserve his marriage to Stella. Johnson’s performance digs deeply into her strong acting repertoire to deliver a heart breaking look at the unraveling of the human spirit—an unraveling that in some respects reflects the early life of Tennessee Williams himself and his attempts to fill the emotional emptiness in
his life with casual encounters.
Laubenstein, who has also appeared in previous Festival productions including this season’s Little Shop of Horrors, provides the ideal foil to Johnson in his portrayal of Stanley. Stanley is loud, profane, sexually confident, and violent. From his first entrance, when he throws a package of bloody meat to Stella, we see the primitive man worn proudly. Modeled after Williams’ abusive father, Stanley represents all that Blanche finds repulsive. When he overhears Blanche attempting to convince Stella to leave Stanley and return to the genteel life that was theirs before the loss of the family home, Blanche’s fate is foreshadowed. Stanley digs into Blanche’s past and reveals to Stella and his friend Mitch the truth about Blanche. As the play ends, he seals her fate, again calling upon the playwright’s own experience with his troubled sister, Rose. Laubenstein’s performance captures the essence of anger and earthiness that carries the tension required to drive Blanche’s downward spiral.
Another Festival veteran, Czajkowski provides a moving and nuanced portrayal of the sensitive young man Mitch—he is caring for his dying mother—who is Blanche’s last chance at a normal life. A friend of Stanley’s from the service, Mitch sees the woman that Blanche wants him to see and offers the possibility at the end of act two that they might make a life together. “You need somebody. And I need somebody, too. Could it be you and me, Blanche?” This hope of the two of them is destroyed when Stanley tells Mitch of Blanche’s sordid past. As the play reaches its conclusion, Mitch sees Stanley’s treachery and has an opportunity to save Blanche, but he turns his back; both his and Blanche’s chance for happiness flickers and dies.
Of the four main characters in Streetcar, Stella, played by Kuhnle, is perhaps the most mysterious. Raised in southern luxury, Stella nevertheless leaves well before the family home is lost to live in a squalid two room apartment with a man whom she describes to her sister as “a different species.” Even though physically abused, she loves Stanley. She confesses to being thrilled when on her wedding night he “snatched off one of my slippers and rushed about the place smashing the light-bulbs with it.” When Blanche suggests a plan to get them both out of there, Stella admonishes Blanche to stop assuming that she is in something she wants to get out of. After Blanche’s climactic encounter with Stanley, Stella chooses Stanley over her sister saying that she couldn’t believe Blanche’s story about Stanley and go on living with him. She is complicit in Stanley’s plan to remove Blanche from their home. Kuhnle’s portrayal of Stella deftly navigates the emotional tightrope between her sisterly love for Stella and her ultimate choice of Stanley.
Other Festival actors appearing in Streetcar are Abi Leveille, Andrew Bradford Benson, David Holmes, Jerry Kurek, Sydney Paredes, Ed Moersfelder, Lis Athas, Elizabeth Albers and Megan Clark.