Calling a play “timeless” often connotes an enduring trait of humanity’s better side, such as selfless heroic rescues, amazing tales of survival or great deeds of goodwill.
On the other hand, there’s the classic play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” written by Tennessee Williams in 1947, that still resonates today for all the wrong reasons.
Domestic violence, mental illness and the hypocrisy of men to name a few.
Oak Harbor’s Whidbey Playhouse takes on the harrowing story that seems custom-ordered in the age of the #MeToo movement and delivers a powerful and poignant production with a cast of seasoned and novice actors.
The play runs Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 8-24. Tickets are $16 to $18.
The tale of young, married couple Stanley and Stella Kowalski, set in the French Quarter of New Orleans, is a story that starts off with the illusion of domestic bliss. But then Blanche DuBois, Stella’s older sister, suddenly shows up, claiming she’s visiting and taking a leave of absence from her English-teaching job because of her nerves.
Soon it’s revealed that she’s broke, doesn’t have a job or a place to live and that there’s no money left from the forced sale of the family plantation in Mississippi.
As Blanche and Stanley begin verbally sparring, the household becomes a simmering hotbed of deceit, rage and violence with Stella in the middle, pregnant, bruised and confused.
Ken Grigsby is the play’s producer and longtime actress Ingrid Schwalbe makes her Whidbey Playhouse directing debut with the production.
Schwalbe sees putting on the play 72 years after it was written as “timely and necessary.” She also wants the message of hope and of trying to do better “for ourselves, for our family and friends, and for our world” to resonate with the audience.
“I like to direct plays that have a reason,” she said. “This play is very apt now with the MeToo movement. Who do you believe, Stanley or Blanche? Why does Stella stay with Stanley? I thought, let’s invite CADA and have a talk back with the audience.”
On Feb. 17, a discussion about domestic abuse is scheduled after the Sunday matinee with representatives of CADA, Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse.
Fernando Duran, last seen as the lead in the Playhouse show, “The Producers,” is dynamic as Stanley Kowalski who shape-shifts between good husband, bad husband in angry outbursts and apologetic pleading.
“It’s saddening to see the statistics of domestic abuse, and it’s even more sickening to know that it was once accepted as normal in the early 1900s and before,” Duran said in an interview, adding that men can also be victimized.
“The greatest difference between now and when this show was written is help is now available,” Duran said.
“So if anyone is in an abusive partnership, please, please seek help.”
Duran, a professional actor with 20 years’ experience on stage and in feature films and television, plays opposite Sabrina Loomis, a talented teenager shining in her first starring role as Stella Kowalski.
Loomis has ensemble cast experience at Whidbey Playhouse and in last year’s musical at Oak Harbor High School, “Guys and Dolls.”
Playing the incredibly volatile and troubled role of the fallen Southern Belle is Bridget Sievers. As Blanche DuBois, she must walk a tightrope of torment, lies and lust all while presenting herself as a proper, prim once-married now widowed but still desirable woman who imagines herself as 30 years or so. Sievers delivers with fury on what’s been called one of the most difficult roles in theater.
An unexpected treat of nightclub-style singing is part of the Playhouse “Streetcar” production. Director Schwalbe asked vocalist Valetta Faye if she’d be willing to sing to distract the audience during numerous scene changes.
“There’s over 100 props in this play,” Schwalbe said, “and I don’t like scene changes.” She chose songs from the 1940s that resonated with the play and also included “It’s Only a Paper Moon” from the Broadway show and movie.
“When she approached me with her idea last July, I had to get used to it,” said Faye who is originally from Louisana. “But once it took hold, I really got excited.”
Selecting to put on a show such as “A Streetcar Named Desire” for a community theater production could be daunting because its history is filled with writing, theater and film awards — including a Tony Award, four Academy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama awarded to playwright Tennessee Williams.
Marlon Brando was a virtual unknown when he was cast as Stanley Kowalski for the Broadway play as was Jessica Tandy, whose performance as Blanche DuBois astounded audiences and critics. Kim Hunter played Stella and Karl Malden was cast as Harold “Mitch” Mitchell, Stanley’s single poker-playing friend who is attracted to Blanche.
But Duran said he didn’t want to be Brando.
“I think roles have some subjectivity to interpretation due to our individual experiences in life and our own acting styles,” he said. “I think audiences can appreciate seeing different performances than what is immortalized in film, legendary as it may be.”
• Whidbey Playhouse presents “A Streetcar Named Desire” is performed Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 8-24. Show times are 7:30 p.m., plus a 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee. Tickets $18 adults and $16 for military and students. Recommended for mature audiences. Call the box office at 360-679-2237 for details or visit www.whidbeyplayhouse.com
• Join the cast and crew and members of CADA for an audience talk back about domestic violence Feb. 17 after the Sunday matinee performance. CADA’s 24-hour crisis phone line: 360-675-2232 or 360-675-7057.