Alibi V.12 No.30 • July 24-30, 2003 

Art Article

Deliberate Cruelty

A Streetcar Named Desire at the Cell Theatre

Blanche (Laurie Thomas) is tormented by Stanley  (Arron Shiver) in Fusion’s production of   A Streetcar Named Desire  .
Blanche (Laurie Thomas) is tormented by Stanley (Arron Shiver) in Fusion’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire .

Most program notes are about as scintillating as the white pages. I've never been tempted to reprint them in a theater review. In this case, though, I'm restraining myself only because of limited space. That's because the lengthy quote from a 1961 Tennessee Williams interview contained in the Cell's program for A Streetcar Named Desire is more timely, eloquent and incisive than anything I could say about this American masterpiece.

Williams' musings on patriotism might seem like non-sequiturs at first. A Streetcar Named Desire is, after all, a twisted psychological drama that has much more to do with sex, violence and delusion than with what it takes to be a good American. Even so, Williams said something profound about his work in that interview, something that applies as perfectly to Streetcar as to anything he ever wrote.

In the interview, Williams says he's always felt closest to people who are screwed-up in one way or another, people who don't adjust well to this world. He places these people in his plays not because he has any deep admiration for depressed, violent, mentally unstable men and women, but because he believes that to be well-adjusted in a country and world that are themselves so screwed-up is disturbing.

Laurie Thomas as Blanche DuBois in    A Streetcar Named Desire.
Laurie Thomas as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

That strange sympathy toward human shortcomings floods through the Fusion Theatre Company's production of Streetcar like a steaming river of sweat. The actors savor every inch of Williams' dark poetry. From start to finish, this is a technically polished but emotionally raw production, the kind of professional theater I rarely see in New Mexico.

Fusion experienced some last minute upheavals during the week before the opening. The director was fired, and the New York actor playing Stanley Kowalski quit. Thankfully, Fred Franklin accomplished some significant down-to-the-wire re-staging.

Then, a day before the opening, Arron Shiver stepped into the role of the belligerent Neanderthal, Stanley—played so perfectly by Marlon Brando on Broadway and in the movie. It isn't particularly easy filling Brando's shoes under any circumstances, but, astonishingly, Shiver took to Stanley like a drunk takes to wine, putting in a truly brilliant performance.

The rest of the cast is great, too. Jacqueline Reid, playing Stella, Stanley's wife, juggles the subtleties of that role well. Vernon Poitras plays the awkward doofus Mitch very convincingly, too.

Of course, the central character in Streetcar is the self-absorbed, delusional belle Blanche, and here, I'm happy to report, Laurie Thomas does everything right. Thomas is just so damned good—she's irritating, she's funny, she's pathetic, she's sympathetic. For my money, she presents an almost archetypal Blanche DuBois.

Lots of people, myself included, consider Williams' play to be one of the great artistic achievements of the 20th century. Fusion, as they have so often in the past, have shown they're up to the task of performing such stellar material. You can take it as a good sign that my wife burst into tears at Streetcar's emotional conclusion. Trust me, these people know what they're doing. I can't recommend this play enough.

My only real disappointment was that there were only a dozen people in the audience. Scrape together some bills and go see this show. Theater in Albuquerque really doesn't get any better than this.

A Streetcar Named Desire, a play by Tennessee Williams presented by the Fusion Theatre Company, runs through August 10 at the Cell Theatre. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m. $22 general, $17 students/seniors. Thursday performances: $10 student rush (with valid I.D.) and $15 actor rush (with professional resume). Group rates also available. 766-9412.