Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan
One of the greatest plays ever written, A Streetcar Named Desire, was presented recently by the theater department at Binghamton University. Among the pitfalls in doing such a great piece is that little room is left for error. Unfortunately, the students at BU, despite their great effort, fell short and failed to deliver the necessary performances required by this intense play.
As I said, their attempt was valiant, and they captured some of the essences of the play, but the more profound moments were mostly unrealized. If you are going to attempt this historic play, you need a manly and rugged Stanley Kowalski. RJ McGhee did the best that he could to portray the brutish Kowalski but wasn’t able to capture the animalistic, testosterone-driven side of his character. This made him slightly disconnected. It was very evident that he tried very hard to play this man, but he had to push very hard and was therefore not 100 percent believable. In my opinion, and that is all a review is, Stanley must possess this lustful, almost supernatural, sexual prowess that makes him irresistible to women. This quality was lacking and therefore made the passionate moments of pure desire less believable.
McGhee does not deserve the complete blame for this; neither the Stella nor her sister, Blanche, exhibited the raw sexual attraction that Tennessee Williams called for. Rebekah Baker played Blanche DuBois as best as she could and had success in some of her more vulnerable moments. However, she was unable to flesh out the flamboyant, over-bearing side of Blanche. This made Blanche very likable, which was fine, but that’s only one side of her character. Baker needed to pay more attention to the three-dimensionality of Blanche. She seemed too well-put-together when she needed to be rude, condescending and shattered. Also, there was no mounting sexual tension between her and Stanley, which deflated their stakes and made the climatic rape totally ineffective, rather than the jarring nightmare that it needs to be.
Ben Williamson turned in a fine performance as Blanche’s suitor, Harold Mitchell. He was believable and honest, which made him the most real. I was impressed by his earnest conviction and understanding of his character. I hope to see him do other work as he is a pleasure to watch.
The struggling actors were not helped by the direction of the play. There was very heavy lighting. There were moments when the lights would focus solely on Blanche and melodramatic music was played, undoubtedly intended to highlight Blanche’s inner turmoil. However, these moments were so intense that it made me uncomfortable. The transitions and set changes were too drawn out, taking us out of the world of the play and breaking its rhythm tremendously. Was it really necessary to have a two-minute transition between every scene, which exploited minor characters and distracted us from the mounting tension of the play? The first act lasted nearly two hours, which felt like an eternity because of the monotonous and lengthy scene changes. A good 25 minutes could have been shaved off this play if more effective and quicker scene changes were utilized. (Editor’s note: The reviewer attended the final performance of the two-weekend run.)
If you are going to do A Streetcar Named Desire, you need great experienced actors with emotional depth. These were good and talented actors who did not have the tools to carry off such a hard play. As such, I applaud their effort, but wish they would have been given a play that better served their capabilities.