CENTERVILLE — Tennessee Williams is one of the most famous playwrights in American history, and the play A Streetcar Named Desire is commonly found on syllabi for English and Theatre classes. Centerpoint Legacy Theatre has created a production of this sad and yet timely classic with director Liz Christensen at the helm. The story follows married couple Stella and Stanley (played by Amanda Angerbauer and Russell Maxfield, respectively) as they deal with the challenges in their marriage that develop when Stella’s sister, Blanche (played by Wendy Oltmanns), comes to stay and a web of lies, hiding, deceit, anger, and violence permeate the environment.
Brian Hahn‘s set in the Leishman theatre at Centerpoint gives a classic view of a small, working class apartment with furniture appropriate for the time period and a small outside with a bench and lamppost and stairs to the unseen apartment above. Hahn did a lot to ensure that the audience would have a appreciation of the gritty life for Stella and Stanley inside the apartment. Costume design by Tammis Boam was also a strength in this production, with the contrast between the style between Blanche and Stella being particularly noticeable. I appreciated too the costumes of the male characters, and the contrast from work and relaxing clothes and when the character of Mitch (played by Brandon Green) was trying to be impressive to Blanche. Another impressive aspect of the show was the lighting, and sound by Derek Walden. The rain coming from the window was particularly realistic and added a lot to the mood of the show.
As sisters, Oltmanns as the debutante Blanche and Angerbauer as Stella had a good chemistry between each other and a strong ability to portray the more dramatic and difficult scenes in the show. ngerbauer plays well the woman who seems happy in her situation in spite of the difficult and rough husband. Oltmanns gives Blanche an aura of mystery, as she moves from the prim and proper to anxious and confused. Marinda Maxfield also excelled as Eunice, a kind yet firm upstairs neighbor, who is protective of Stella but also struggles with her own issues in her marriage.
While Russell Maxfield was suitable at portraying working class Stanley, his performance did lean too heavily into a recreation of the Marlin Brando performance in the film version of the show. Russell Maxfield showed affection and love to Stella, and a tough side showing hate towards Blanche. The roughness Russell Maxfield showed made the shocking violence in the final act of the play and sad descent of Blanche into severe mental illness understandable. Green, playing a single man interested in Blanche, and Logan Gifford as Steve, Eunice;s husband, both played as good friends to Stanley, and during a poker game gone wrong they showed wisdom in working to cool Stanley down. Both actors brought a touch of realism to the play.
In the over seventy years since A Streetcar Named Desire debuted, the issues in the script have not become any less timely or difficult to process. I was impressed with the team at CenterPoint for choosing to include in the program help numbers for domestic violence and suicide prevention, as these things are featured extensively throughout the show. Christensen stated in her director’s note in the program that she is interested in who the audience wanted to blame and who they wanted to forgive, and watching the show with that question in mind was intriguing and sometimes emotionally difficult. Much like Blanche in the beginning of the show, I was stressed and confused about Stella’s acceptance of the treatment she received by Stanley, but I was also upset with Blanche’s need to lie and misrepresent her life situation. But those conflicted feelings are likely exactly how Williams wanted the audience to feel when telling this story. As a replication of this classic, the cast and crew at CenterPoint did a fine job of putting together a thought-provoking and accurate portrayal of the story, which touches on very difficult themes that are still realistic and a part of the challenges of life today.