SALT LAKE CITY – Salt Lake City has a new theatre company: Radical Hospitality Theater. This theatre company feels different. Their claims to produce rarely seen shows and challenge audiences is pretty generic and bland, but their execution is exciting; their pricing is daring; and the talent they are attracting is respectable.
Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning play A Streetcar Named Desire is a beautiful start for this company. It tells of Blanche DuBois visiting her sister Stella and husband Stanley one hot summer in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It deals with fantasy’s inability to overcome the reality. Themes of domestic violence and misogyny appear throughout. No one writes like Tennessee Williams. The script alone is worth seeing a production.
Tape outlines the stage. A table, some chairs, a bed, bathtub and mirror are the only real pieces in the room while everything else is outlined in tape (the stage, a cot, a curtain, etc.). It’s a mix of real and implied. Lighting follows suit. Stylized in sharp, almost garish, colors the design evokes feelings rather than settling in as a backdrop. Sound design is a mix of recorded music and live effects and song, but there’s no clear rule defining when something is live or recorded. Designers and director Cooper Howell seem to be flirting with a concept but lacks commitment.
Deena Manzanares as Blanche DuBois is riveting. It’s a stellar performance when an actor gives so much to the audience like she does. The theatre is a large and open storefront with lamentable acoustics that don’t allow Manzanares (and other actors) to have smaller, more intimate moments. And that is my main complaint with Manzanares. I wish I’d been able to catch a glimpse of the injured girl hiding behind the façade Blanche puts on. I fear the space prevented her from reaching those moments.
Aaron Adams as Stanley Kowalski is a force. He commands the stage and lends to it a heavy feeling of violence. Stella says that at times he can be gentle, and I want to believe there is an element of truth to that but Adams alone does not show it. Still, he prowls the stage with confidence and masculinity. To lack gentleness is a small complaint.
MacKenzie Pedersen as Stella Kowalski plays every scene in the moment, in that her performance never carries with it the weighted history of everything that comes before. To Pedersen’s Stella, there is no sense of danger. There is no abusive relationship. And yes, while innocence and complete denial can be a choice it would carry so much more weight for the audience to see that denial; to see the conflict. Those layers were missing.
Sila Agavale as Mitch was a delight. His charm and delivery forces us to take a breath, calm down, and appreciate the moment. I think it’s the same effect he has on Blanche.
I’m left confused at the point of this production’s concept. I love the atmosphere that Radical Hospitality Theater is trying cultivate. I love that they are using a non-traditional space. I love that they are catering to a more affluent crowd. Artistically, none of the choices feel complete. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the design choices are meant to feel half complete. Maybe the echos and sizzling food is meant to pull me out of the world of the play. But if that’s the case, there needs to be a reason for doing so. Maybe these were choices from a theatre company that leapt, hit the budget limits, and made the best of the situation. In this production it is hard to tell the difference between an artistic choice and a “choice” that the budget imposed on the director.
It’s a nice night at the theatre. Tennessee Williams is always a treat. I expect great things from Radical Hospitality Theater. A Streetcar Named Desire was a great first step, but they have room to grow.