A Streetcar Named Desire

Stella and Stanley highlight this American classic


At Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason St., S.F. Presented by Off Broadway West Theatre Company. Through July 28. Tickets are $30. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.offbroadwaywest.org.

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Tennessee Williams' script is just as heartwrenching and provocative, sexy and sweaty in 2007 as it was for its debut in 1947. The character-driven drama is about a faded Southern belle, Blanche DuBois, who goes to live with her baby sister, Stella, and Stella's "brute" husband, Stanley Kowalski. To this day, the 60-year-old play remains a scene-work staple at most Stanislavsky Method acting programs. Being cast in A Streetcar Named Desireshould be an American stage actor's wet dream. Kamran Alexander shows real acting chops in this production; his Stanley is boorish and vulnerable, hot and frightening. Tara Donoghue (Stella) takes a character that could be a throwaway with the wrong actress, and gives her strength. She and Kamran steal the show with their electric chemistry. Barbara Michelson-Harder's Blanche, by comparison, just doesn't get there. It could have been a directing choice, but her character seems fake — indicating rather than allowing herself to become the vulnerable, trampled, and delicate woman that is Blanche DuBois. The director of Streetcarmust play the role of teacher to coax and inspire the cast to fully commit to playing parts originated by the likes of Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy, and in this production Richard Harder succeeds on most counts. Unfortunately, Harder diverges from Williams' script at the pinnacle moment of the play, when Blanche smashes a bottle and goes for Stanley's face. The sound of that bottle cracking is Blanche cracking, and this version didn't break it at all. Yet overall, this production is a worthy tribute to an American masterpiece. —Nara Dahlbacka

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