There are few more iconic plays in the American canon than “Streetcar Named Desire”. Stanley Kuwolski has become an American icon, and his yelling of “Stella” has become one of the most parodied lines in history. Taking on such a beloved work is always a difficult endeavor, as people come to it with their own preconceptions and expectations, so one must be sure to bring quality to the table. Luckily, Austin Shakespeare has brought a talented group of actors to the piece, who create a raw, emotional production of the Tennessee Williams classic.
Stanley Kuwolski is one of stage’s most notorious brutes, but what often gets overlooked in performing the character is his charm. After all, we have to see what Stella sees in him, and their passion and love for each other must be believable. Andrew Hutcheson brings just that charm to the role, able to fly off the handle with the best of them, while still hitting us with a sly smile or a sarcastic look in his eyes that makes him undeniable likable. Indeed, in the early stages of the play Hutcheson, while never seeming too smart in the role, still imbues it with a canniness that helps us root for him. However, in the later stages of the play, this likability becomes a hindrance, as his violent overtures towards Blanche come off as a bit half-cocked, and the actor doesn’t take his fury quite far enough to make his actions believable. Still, his chemistry with Amber Quick’s Stella is undeniable, and the play never feels in a better place than when we see the two of them together.
Amber Quick tackles the role of Stella with a stunning doe-eyed sweetness, a brightness that brings the audience to beaming, but as we see her tender moments with Hutcheson’s Stanley, we see she’s packing plenty of sensuality. Even in brief conversations with her sister, she brings out a minxy coyness that’s refreshing to see, a strong female character who’s not afraid to express her sexuality.
Though Stanley may be the most well-remembered character by many, “A Streetcar Named Desire” lives and dies on the strength of Blanche Dubois. It’s a part that’s incredibly easy to over play, or underplay, so striking the right balance is tantamount. From the moment Gwendolyn Kelso appears on stage, there’s a twitch to her eyes, an uncertainty in her gait that hides something tumultuous. When the time comes for Blanche Dubois to fly into one of her more dramatic moments, Kelso never plays it over-the-top, but instead stays grounded, even while letting her emotions explode.
Though not without its hiccoughs, Austin Shakespeare’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” feels emotionally honest and palpable, with the main trio digging to the heart of their characters to bring the feelings deep within the piece to the fore. It’s a beautifully realized production, even if its final notes don’t hit quite as hard as they could.
Photo Courtesy of Austin Shakespeare