What a heady thing it must have been to be a young man in this country in 1946. For most of those who survived World War II, it must have felt like the world was their oyster. They had survived the Great Depression and saved the world. They were still young, they were heroes, they had jobs. They came home, got married, and started families. They were the kings of their respective castles.
Stanley Kowalski was one of these men. In Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, A Streetcar Named Desire, now playing at Portland Center Stage, Stanley (Demetrius Grosse) comes home all flushed from a night of bowling and beers with the guys, only to find his home invaded by his wife Stella’s (Kristen Adele) sister Blanche DuBois (Deidrie Henry).
Blanche arrives with a lot of baggage, the least of which is that long white boa that so offends Stanley. She puts on airs. Her persona doesn’t match what she’s saying. She’s a victim who still manages to insult the Kowalski lifestyle. From the moment he sets eyes on her, Stanley is on the offensive. Not only does Blanche mess with him, she also vies for Stella’s attention, which he wants all to himself. He senses her weakness.
Stanley’s proverbial castle is a small apartment in the Marginy section of New Orleans, a down-at-the-heels neighborhood of people pursuing a better life. The neighborhood Tennessee Williams reveals to us features a vibrant street life where folks know their neighbors and their neighbors’ business. And while they are not rich, their men won the war too. The Kowalski address is on a street called Elysian Fields. Ironically, in Greek mythology, Elysian Fields is the final resting place of heroic and virtuous souls.
Streetcar is a complex play. Not only does it portray the culture clash between the Old South and post-World War II brashness, energy, and smoldering sexuality, but it unmasks an Old South whose secrets, lies, and decay are symbolized by a woman descending into mental illness. In the escalating battle between Stanley and Blanche, there also emerge the small issues of domestic violence, an examination of profound mental illness, and how women in our society were treated. Deidrie Henry’s tour de force performance as Blanche embodies those desperate struggles. Torn between two worlds, Kristen Adele’s compliant Stella enables both her husband and her sister. And Demetrius Grosse as Stanley masterfully walks a tightrope between cunning and thuggery. Great performances by all under PCS Artistic Director Chris Coleman’s precision directing.
The play runs through June 19 at Portland Center Stage’s Gerding Theatre Main Stage.