BarnArts: ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ to open April 1
April 1 – 3 and 7-10 — POMFRET — BarnArts is in rehearsals for “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams, opening on April 1 at the Grange Theatre in South Pomfret. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1948 and is Tennessee Williams’ most famous work. The production, directed by BarnArts Executive Director Linda Treash, is BarnArts’ fourth winter community play at the Grange Theatre.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” tells the story of fragile, worn and desperate Southern belle Blanche DuBois, who moves to New Orleans to live with her sister Stella and her new brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski. Blanche’s romantic illusions and secrets, both tender and desperate, clash against Stanley’s frank and violent physicality in Williams’ complex script, written in three acts.
Tennessee Williams lived in the French Quarter, and he staged the Kowalski’s modest, two-room apartment on the shabby edge of the Quarter, a location integral to the energy, rawness, and trouble brewing in the play. Treash lived in New Orleans for six years and considers it to be her second home.
“My graduate school program participated in the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival every year,” said Treash, “which included not only script work and performances, but a Stella and Stanley shouting contest in Jackson Square.” “It is a perfect fit for the Grange,’’ said Treash. “The set is very simple — two rooms and an outside porch with stairs. I also lean towards strong, meaningful plays which bring out a great community of local actors who want challenging, meaty roles.” Using the exposed walls of the Grange Theatre, the set will create a city-neighborhood feeling of being close to other people amidst the seedy liveliness of the French Quarter. The atmosphere of the Quarter is a crucial component of Williams’ script, as he wrote passersby into most scenes, as well as the sounds of New Orleans – live Jazz in the distance, trains going by, hooting and hollering on the street. “All things you hear in New Orleans” says Treash, “although maybe not the train whistle anymore.” Landing the story firmly in New Orleans is important to Treash and so is tackling the play’s difficult themes. “The play turns a sharp lens on topics still very much with us today,” says Treash. “Domestic violence, sexual violence, alcoholism and class conflict are all presented through the intimacy of this complex and contradictory family – a family boiling over in feeling and character,” said Treash. “The brilliance of Tennessee Williams shines through in how he skillfully handles these difficult topics, but we can’t ignore the sharp lens of 2022. Our production team and all our actors are living in the age of ‘Me Too,’ and it’s with us during rehearsals whether we notice it or not.”
Since the first read-through with the cast, Treash has been working hard to create a strong ensemble to help the actors feel grounded and united, particularly needed with an emotionally challenging script. “We start all of our rehearsals with body, breath and voice warm-ups, bringing us all together as a group, and then work on ensemble and character-connecting activities. “First we connect the actors as people, and then we build the relationships between the characters. Both relationships need full support.”
Treash is also in conversation with WISE, an Upper Valley women’s advocacy and support non-profit, and a WISE educator will be meeting with the cast in early March to inform their portrayals of abusers, victims and by-standers.
“We fully intend to stay loyal to Williams’ script, but we can’t avoid the responsibility of our material,” said Treash.
To further support the current relevance of the play’s themes, Treash’s costume and set design are contemporary.
“We straddle 1947 and 2022 as needed to keep the script real,” said Treash. The production is focused fully on the stage play and stays away from any cinematic alterations.
“The movie is such an icon in our culture, but this beautiful script started it all, and it is written with superb detail. Any questions we have, we turn to the script or any original materials we can find with details on the Broadway production.”
Cast in the role of Blanche Dubois is Katie Cawley, a frequent performer with BarnArts and the Parish Players. Cast alongside her as Stella and Stanley Kowalski are a married pair of actors, Erin Bennett and Aaron Michael Hodge. Both Hodge and Bennett have been working with BarnArts for years as actors and on production teams. The rest of the cast includes Noor Taher, cast as Mitch, the tragic love interest to Blanche; Cliff Johnson and Molly Elsasser as Steve and Eunice, the couple who live above Stella and Stanley; Rob Aspenleider as Pablo; and Doug Abbott, Chelsea Paige and Mary Ann Stanford as ensemble characters. The production crew includes Linda Treash, director and set designer; Jill Clough, assistant director and stage manager; Patrick Maury, stage manager; Molly Elsasser, assistant producer; Chris Peirce, technical designer; Deb Rice, costume designer; and Eben Farinas, master carpenter.
Tickets are now on sale for all performance dates: April 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. and April 3 and 10 at 2:00 p.m. For more information or to purcase tickets, visit: barnarts.org/mainstage/a-streetcar-named-desire.