DeWitt Tennessee Williams wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire” 66 years ago, but the play continues to transfix audiences with its unapologetic depiction of a family wracked by secrets and rocked by strife.
Set in a lower-class New Orleans flat in the summer of 1947, “Streetcar” pits the “king of the castle,” Stanley Kowalski, against his visiting sister-in-law from Mississippi, Blanche DuBois.
In the CNY Playhouse production now on stage at Shoppingtown Mall in Dewitt, director Patricia Elise Catchouny wisely cast two of Syracuse’s best performers – Jodie Baum and Jordan Glaski – in the lead roles.
Jodie Baum, who has starred in such demanding shows as “Sweeney Todd” and “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe,” said that Blanche was the most difficult role she ever played. No wonder Baum found this character a challenge. Blanche remains one of the most complex individuals ever created on stage. While most playwrights – even those as accomplished as William Saroyan and Eugene O’Neill – often fail to fully develop their female characters, Williams managed to plumb the depths of Blanche DuBois.
Williams apparently based Blanche on his emotionally disturbed sister, Rose, who was eventually institutionalized. Like the schizophrenic Rose, Blanche lives in two worlds, one rosily idealized and one frighteningly real.
Baum readily admits that, physically, she’s not as “delicate” as previous Blanches such as Jessica Tandy or Vivien Leigh. Nevertheless, Baum creates an incandescent character, hateful and bitter one moment, pitiful and pathetic the next. Her Blanche may be big, but she withers under Stanley’s torrential litany of dark secrets revealed, and in the end she wilts like a flower in the fall.
At first glance Stanley appears one-dimensional – crude, rude, loud and demanding – but Glaski masterfully demonstrates that Stanley’s macho bluster masks an endearing vulnerability. His love for Stella, for instance, is evident in the tender way he touches her and the way he fondly recalls their courtship. On the other hand, his disdain for Blanche comes across in dialogue as direct as a hurricane’s thunderclap.