Absolutely Perfect Blanche Makes Old Academy’s STREETCAR Shine

by Ronald Comer

Nancy Bennett as Blanche and Patrick Martin as Mitch in Old Academy Players' A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE.

Old Academy Players close out their season with an American classic that first opened on Broadway in December of 1947 and the following year earned its author, Tennessee Williams, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Among its numerous revivals is the 2012 Tony-award winning currently running Broadway production at the Broadhurst Theatre that features ethnic actors in the major roles of Blanch, Stella and Stanley.

The Director of Old Academy’s production, J.P. Parrella, who has previously directed two other of Williams’ well-known works, THE ROSE TATTOO and THE GLASS MENAGERIE, considers STREETCAR to be the most challenging because it requires actors of the highest caliber to recreate the play’s iconic roles. This requirement is particularly important in casting the play’s protagonist Blanche DuBois, a role that won a Tony for Jessica Tandy, who originated the role, and an Oscar for Vivian Leigh, who played Blanche in the 1951 film version after first appearing as Blanche in 1949, directed by her then husband, Laurence Olivier, on the London stage.

For anyone reading this review that is not familiar with A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, the play revolves around the conflict between the character of Blanche, a delicate aging Southern Belle who has lost her family fortune, estate and reputation and has come to New Orleans to stay for a while with younger sister, Stella, and her husband, Stanley. Blanche lives in a perpetual state of make believe to fend off the tragic reality of what her life has become. In doing so she plays a role that runs smack dab into conflict with the raw day-to-day reality with which Stanley contends in his sometimes passionate and sometimes stormy relationship with his wife, Stella. Stanly cannot relate to Blanche’s air of superiority and becomes quickly committed to exposing her act by stripping away her veneer regardless of the harm that may come to Blanche’s already precarious purchase on what little personal identity she has left.

Nancy Bennett as Blanche and Connie Giordano as Stella in Old Academy Players' A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, running in Philadelphia, PA through June 23.

For those of you who are familiar with this still remarkably important play, you know that without a strong, deeply penetrating portrayal of Blanche, the play is basically not worth seeing because her role is so central to the unfolding and profoundly moving aspects of life that are laid bare upon the stage in this now classic tragedy. Well, the good news is that Nancy Bennett, who has also played Amanda in the Old Academy production of Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE is absolutely perfect as Blanche. From the first scene when she hesitantly walks from the streetcar stop to Stella’s flat, along the way asking directions, Ms. Bennett is believable as Blanche. Her stunningly intense and devastatingly eloquent immersion into her character is a delight that brought the opening night’s audience to its feet with cheers of “bravo”.

As Stanley KowalskI, Tim Tolen portrays well this blue-collar worker who sees it as his mission to protect Stella from the lies her sister is feeding her by exposing all vestiges of Blanche’s social pretentions. Connie Giordano balances the various aspects of her role as Stella with a high degree of craftsmanship. Notable performances are also supplied by Patrick Martin as Mitch, a friend of Stanley’s who has taken a romantic interest in Blanche, and Greg Pronko who plays Steve, the upstairs neighbor who is married to Eunice, played with empathy by Brenna McBride.  This entire ensemble of actors all fill their roles with great energy and work together well in bringing this well-worn drama to life on Old Academy’s intimate and historic stage.

by Tennessee Williams
Directed by J.P. Parrella
June 8-23, 2012
Old Academy Players
3534-3544 Indian Queen Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19129

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