AISLE SAY Twin Cities


by Tennessee Williams
Directed by John Miller-Stephany
Guthrie Theater
818 South Second Street, Minneapolis, MN/ 612-225-6000

Reviewed by Vlad Dima

Tennesse Williams' play requires an incredible amount of energy and emotion from the main two characters, Blanche and Stanley, who ultimately represent the driving force behind the entire production. So it is not by chance that I begin with the performances of Ricardo Antonio Chavira (Stanley) and Gretchen Egolf (Blanche). Chavira exudes the animalistic "quality" that is demanded to play Stanley, and really captures the physical essence of the character. But, while it may appear so, Stanley is not unidimensional-there are layers and layers of conflict, love, pain, and well, sadism, that characterize him. Chavira projects his anger very well, but maybe falls short on capturing the other emotions of the character consistently. The iconic "Stella" shout (and really, do we ever think of anyone else but Brando at this particular moment?) is actually one of those moments when everything comes together for the actor, and the audience picks up on a wider range of emotions.

Maybe fittingly, since the two characters are antagonistic, Egolf masters perfectly the complicated intricacies of Blanche. If this Stanley keeps us at the same intensity level, this Blanche takes us on a wild, emotional journey of ups and downs, a journey that extends beyond the one that she undertakes in the play. As we follow her descent into madness in a place ironically named Elysian Fields, Egolf's Blanche becomes the catalyst that ignites and makes the play work. Her scenes with Stanley are intense, and she responds with fine nuance to his brute force. She easily shifts to different registers when facing other characters, which really helps the solid supporting cast. This is especially true for Brian Keane, who plays Mitch and holds his own admirably in one of the best scenes of the play, alongside Blanche.

Even though this is a play that usually succeeds through superior acting, the Guthrie and director John Miller-Stephany get all the details right, and put on a spectacular show. The set (Todd Rosenthal) is magnificent and practical. Throughout the production, doors and screens are swung shut with loud thumps, which function as a constant, aural punctuation meant to remind us of the larger picture thumps: Stella's heartache, Mitch's conflict, or Blanche's madness. I also particularly enjoyed the spotlights (Peter Mumford, Lighting Designer): a few of them are placed lower on the stage, which creates a film noir atmosphere, as a chiaroscuro (albeit in color) type of effect takes shape. The shadows of the characters are projected on the walls behind, and Stanley's shadow in the drunk scene echoes that of Orson Welles' Kane. Another wonderful spotlight tracks Blanche around in the second part of the play. It is a checkered spotlight that traps her in a virtual prison of light and darkness, obviously foreshadowing her eventual loss of freedom. Finally, the train that keeps going by the house, metaphorically merges at one point with Stanley. As he is about to go inside, he lights up a cigarette and puffs, which is the exact moment when the compressor of the locomotive goes off, too. And that is the most adequate metaphor for Stanley, and maybe the play itself: an entity full of raw power, unstoppable force, but dehumanized, and always moving in a straight line.

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