'A Streetcar Named Desire' comes to Arizona Repertory Theatre
When Marlon Brando dropped to his knees and gave that guttural howl of “Stella!” in the film version of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” audiences knew they were seeing a classic piece of American literature.
Tornabene Theatre will host performances of Williams’ iconic play, performed by Arizona Repertory Theatre, from Nov. 5 to Dec. 3.
The play is set in 1947 America and follows the story of an aging southern belle, Blanche DuBois, who is struggling financially and emotionally after the loss of her historic ancestral home. Seeking refuge at her sister’s New Orleans home, Blanche grapples with reality as she battles for survival against her brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski, a representative of the aggressive and bold new-age American. It is a timeless struggle between the fading southern belle and the new American in a post-war society.
Despite the daunting magnitude of the play, Hank Stratton, the director of the show and assistant professor in the UA School of Theatre, Film and Television, said the play is an excellent learning opportunity for everyone involved.
“It’s terrifying to the actors to stand in the shadows of those great performances, but it also inspires them,” he said.
Musical theater major Marissa Munter is taking on the lead role of DuBois. With less than a week to go until opening night, she said preparations are going well.
“I think we’re all feeling very comfortable and confident going through,” Munter said. “There’s definitely nerves, but good nerves.”
DuBois is depicted as an emotionally fragile and weak character who has been discarded by an animalistic and patriarchal society. Her character has always polarized audiences; some are highly sympathetic, while others find her ill fortune self-imposed.
Munter hopes for a similar reaction from the audience.
“I think [a polarization] is more interesting and hope it creates more conversation between people deciding if they’re sympathetic or if they hate Blanche,” she said. “When you leave a theater with people talking about it … you know it’s a really important piece of work.”
This year, the play celebrates its 70th anniversary, but Williams’ key message of compassion and kindness toward strangers remains as relevant today as ever.
“Every single person [in the play] has something identifiable, and I think that’s why it’s a classic,” Stratton said. “That and [the play’s] incredible structure and peerless writing style.”
In the play, Williams is very specific about his stage directions and precisely details everything from the costumes to the lighting. Stratton intends to remain faithful to the original production, but he also aims to ensure its relevance to a contemporary society.
“You have a road map [with Williams’ stage directions], but you also have something to live up to,” he said.
This translates to the set of the New Orleans French Quarter, which Stratton portrays as realistically as possible while also inviting the audience to use its imagination.
“I wanted representational pieces, not just literal pieces, so there’s a beam that divides the two rooms as opposed to an actual wall,” Stratton said. “The door has no frame, so it sort of floats in space, and that way … it allows us to peer into this world, and the audience is actually in the room with them.”
Stratton hopes to achieve this immersive experience in the set, designed by Jason Jamerson, an MFA student in Scenic Design.
“I want the audience to feel surrounded by the moments,” he said. “I want them to feel like they’re in the Quarter, as opposed to observing the Quarter.”
With the set and actors nearly ready, it’s time for the audience seats to be filled. Lisa Pierce, director of marketing and development for the School of Theatre, Film and Television, hopes more students come to watch Arizona Repertory Theatre shows.
“We just reduced the student price this calendar year … to just $15 across the board,” she said. “Seeing a professional-caliber production for that rate is a steal.”
Munter is also looking forward to see who will be in the audience.
“Because it is such a topical show, it would be really cool if we could get younger audiences to come in and hear what their perspective is of it,” she said.
Tickets for “A Streetcar Named Desire” can be purchased online at the Arizona Repertory Theatre website.
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Correction: The Daily Wildcat originally attributed the set design of "A Streetcar Named Desire" to the director, Hank Stratton. The set design is actually by Jason Jamerson, an MFA student at UA. The text above has been changed to reflect the correct information.