Reviews NYC Regional Published 12 October 2013

A Streetcar Named Desire

Yale Repertory Theatre ⋄ 20th September - 12th October 2013

Paper lanterns.

Richard Patterson

Though the reason many have migrated north this fall to New Haven to catch Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, starring TV actor Joe Manganiello (True Blood) in the role of animalistic lover-fighter-bowler Stanley Kowalski, has been to catch one of their hunky favorite actors live and in the flesh, there are numerous other pleasures to be found in Mark Rucker’s serviceable if unimaginative production, which boasts a talented cast and solid design work all around.

It’s hard to find a new take on Streetcar, one of the most oft-produced plays with a fairly straight-forward narrative and a setting — mid-century New Orleans — that only allows for so much directorial tweaking before it implodes. Simplicity abounds here. Scenic designer Reid Thompson follows Williams’s prescriptive stage directions to a T, and Hunter Kaczorowski provides faithful period costumes (as well as a few rather unflattering wigs for René Augesen’s Blanche, which you’ll need to force yourself to ignore).

I’m happy to report that Joe Manganiello is nowhere near as wooden as other film and TV actors who’ve taken a stab at stage work, but nor is he the firecracker you might hope for in the role — when he wails at Stella in the play’s most iconic scene, he’s more strained puppy than wounded lion. René Augesen is a fine Blanche, a faded flower carrying forth her Southern torch though all hope is lost.

The real highlight here, though, is Sarah Sokolovic, who takes the role of Stella and makes it truly her own. So often portrayed as a wounded door mat, Sokolovic’s Stella is an empowered woman who understands the failings of her own heart but loves knockabout Stanley in spite of his flaws — as well as her own. In the play’s final scenes, typically a tour de force for whichever actress is playing Blanche, I found my eyes gravitating toward Sokolovic, who, even in reacting to Blanche’s situation, manages to give this production a solid core.

There are missteps here to be sure — immediately after Stanley — spoiler alert — hits Stella, his card-playing buddies gallumph into the Kowalski’s bathroom like the Three Stooges, eliciting laughs from the  audience. Director Mark Rucker also makes clumsy use of an upstage scrim as a means to feature too-literal flashbacks of Blanche’s past. These are unnecessary images; Williams’s text does the work for us, and nothing we can be shown can quite match the power of Blanche’s words.

If Mark Rucker’s serviceable production of A Streetcar Named Desire at Yale Repertory Theatre paints with somewhat broader brushstrokes than others in recent memory — including BAM’s production, starring the luminous Cate Blanchett as Blanche DuBois, a few years back — it’s damn near impossible to kill Tennessee Williams’s brilliant play, one of the best in the American canon.

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Richard Patterson

A graduate of New York University with a degree in Dramatic Literature, Richard was deputy theatre editor at musicOMH.com from 2008-2011 and New York Editor of Exeunt from 2011-2016. He is excited to continue on as a contributor. With a penchant for Sondheim, the Bard, and Beckett, as well as for new writing, theatergoing highlights include Fiona Shaw's Winnie in "Happy Days," Derek Jacobi's Lear, Jonathan Pryce in "The Caretaker," and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello at the Donmar. Richard's criticism has been published in The Sondheim Review.

A Streetcar Named Desire Show Info


Directed by Mark Rucker

Written by Tennessee Williams

Cast includes René Augesen, Phillip Christian, Nick Erkelens, Mercedes Herrero, Marc Damon Johnson, Joe Manganiello, April Matthis, Adam O'Byrne, Ken Ruta, Sarah Sokolovic

Link http://www.yalerep.org

Running Time 3 hrs (with two intermissions)

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