Saturday, July 31, 2021

Multicultural Cast Livens Up Tennessee Williams Classic, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ at Pasadena’s Boston Court

(L – R) Jaimi Paige (Blanche), Maya Lynne Robinson (Stella) are sisters in this production. Photo credit: Jeff Lorch

*Tennessee Williams’ iconic play, A Streetcar Named Desire, has come to Pasadena, California. But careful, you may have a hard time recognizing it. Director Michael Michetti (along with assistant director June Carryl) are doing things their way. Gone is the old “Southern Gothic gauze” that offered a comfortable illusion to placate folks of the genre, the director has upped the ante by placing Williams’ old vision in the new era of NOW — with an urban environment and modern day issues serving as the backdrop, which he hopes will highlight the pertinence of this play for today’s divided America.

‘Streetcar’ is the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Awards, Academy Awards and has been adapted as an opera, ballet, and has been adapted numerous times for television.

The story revolves around Blanche Dubois, a nervous wreck of a southern belle who is forced to leave Belle Reve, the family home, after the passing of its remaining members. She goes into debt and in the end, the property is seized by creditors.

She leaves Mississippi and travels to New Orleans, where her younger married sister, Stella, resides with her obnoxious husband, Stanley Kowalski. Already giving Blanche the proverbial side-eye, Stanley isn’t very welcoming to his sister-in-law — much to the chagrin of his loving wife.

Blanche, played irritatingly wonderful by Jaimi Paige, gives her new environment — where loud neighbors live right upstairs and a front door leads to the noisy street — an icky once-over. But with no other options available, she moves in to the couple’s already tight one bedroom apartment under the auspices of “visiting” for awhile because she has taken leave from her teaching job.

A lie which she knows sounds better than I have no job. No money, and no place else to go.

Stanley gives the side-eye as his sister-in-law, Blanche, flits around the room. Desean Kevin Terry (Stanley). Photo credit: Jeff Lorch

The Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena, California, where the production is being presented, has got to be one of the city’s best kept secrets. The 99-seat very modern theatre sits comfortably on a small side street just off of the city’s artsy Colorado Blvd., and Michetti’s urban upgrade makes it the perfect setting

In a previous feature, EURweb senior editor DeBorah B. Pryor spoke to star, Desean Kevin Terry, who plays the very suspecting brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, (with incredible conviction by the way!), about the significance of the play in today’s heated national environment, as well as the role now being portrayed by him, a Black man.

Now the actor talks about why he did NOT watch the original work in his prep for the iconic role.

“I made an effort not to watch the film.  I’ve seen snippets, but have not seen the whole movie.  This was a conscious choice to help me craft a take on the role that was true and authentic.  Rather than playing Stanley, how he’s “traditionally” played, I wanted to find nuances in the character that people haven’t seen before,” he tells EURweb.

Directors of the production over the years have had their own vision of the play’s female lead, Blanche Duboir. But director Michael Michetti describes her in this way…

A very “flirty” Blanche with Mitch. (L –R) Luis Kelly-Duarte (Mitch), Jaimi Paige (Blanche), Photo credit: Jeff Lorch

“To me, Blanche represents the last desperate cries of privilege.  The drama arises as she tries to cling onto a world that no longer exists and refuses to embrace the actual world that she inhabits. In this production, Blanche is an interloper, surrounded by people of different classes and races who speak truthfully and often bluntly about the world in ways that discomfort Blanche. And in the end, her inability to adapt sends her into a downward spiral. I think this production also speaks to current discussions of nationalism.”

“Michael Michetti was inspired by a phrase in the play’s stage directions that describes Blanche as being “Incongruous to the setting,” says Terry. “Despite the shift in casting, there is the sense of disconnect between the majority-represented culture and the ethnic diversions represented by the other characters.  Ultimately, America is a place of diversity, no matter what ethnicity is cited as the “minority.”

This new production looks at Blanche’s behavior in the context of current events and not in a theatrical vacuum, especially given the storied history of this play.  Michetti adds, “In the way this cast has been assembled, the production will reflect the broad diversity of our nation.  Through the communities represented onstage in this production and these characters that we think we know so well, the story can help us look at our world anew.

“I think it’s bold to say that I’ll put a stamp on Stanley, although that would be nice if someone in the audience felt that way,” states a humble Desean Terry, after Pryor asked how he would put his stamp on the character.

“For every role, the character gets filtered through me.  Since I’m the only “me” that will ever be, I want people to experience the character in a new way.  My main objective is to see Stanley through my eyes and I try to use this process with every character I portray,” Terry tells us.

The fellas get together every weekend for a robust game of cards. Pictured (L – R): Desean Kevin Terry (Stanley), Joma Saenz (Steve), Luis Kelly-Duarte (Mitch), Christopher Ramirez (Pablo)

The cast overall is very good, and kudos go out to them all. Specials nods go out to not only Desean K. Terry and Jaimi Paige, but also to Maya Lynne Robinson, who plays Stella with real heart. Also, Luis Kelly-Duarte, the unsuspecting suitor that gets caught up in Blanche’s flirtatious web. 

The only danger I see in placing an old play in a new environment is this. You get tempted to add things that may actually be more distracting than enhancing. I found this to be true with the music interludes. The very flamboyant DJ, who was always present at the sound board, waving his hands in the air like he just didn’t care whenever the scene changed — and the singer was, well…distracting overall. Their presence seemed more like an awkward attempt at “inclusion” than a necessary part of the show.

The couple in one of their constant arguments about Blanche. (L –R) Desean Kevin Terry (Stanley), Maya Lynne Robinson (Stella). Photo credit: Jeff Lorch

“I’m excited about the concept that we’re utilizing with this play.  As an artist, I like to engage in material that results in dialogue,” Terry says, as he answers my last question: What excites you about this role? “Culturally, we are living in such a fascinating time and I love that this work will inspire conversation about what is happening in the world-at-large,” he adds.

The scenic design by Efren Delgadillo, Jr. along with Sam Sewell’s sound effects aptly captured an urban neighborhood feel.

Performance Schedule:

 

Thursday, February 15 through Sunday, March 24, 2018

Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm; Sundays at 2:00pm

 

Closing: Sunday, March 25 at 2:00pm

 

Tickets and Information:

Boston Court Performing Arts Center

70 N Mentor Ave. Pasadena, CA 91106

Website: www.BostonCourt.com

Phone: 626.683.6801

Prices: $20 – $39

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