The classic American drama “A Streetcar Named Desire” can be seen in many lights — tragedy, melodrama, star-making vehicle for Marlon Brando. As presented by the Kansas City Actors Theatre on the City Stage at Union Station, the show sets in motion a clash of classes and exposes them all, high or low, as equally base. Everyone, ultimately, is driven by desire.
In 1940s New Orleans, Blanche DuBois, a down-on-her-luck Southern belle, arrives to stay with her sister, Stella, and her sister’s husband, Stanley. Raised on a Mississippi plantation, Blanche finds Stanley “common” and uncouth, and cannot understand why Stella would choose to live in such shabby circumstances and stay with a man so prone to anger and violence. Meanwhile, Stanley immediately suspects that Blanche’s elegant manners and expensive accessories are compensating for some kind of hypocrisy.
Gradually, Blanche’s secrets are dragged into the light. Stanley uncovers the recent disgrace that sent her seeking refuge with Stella. In the course of her relationship with Stanley’s friend Mitch, Blanche reveals the long-ago tragedy that seems to lie at the heart of her troubles: the suicide of her young husband.
Blanche is a meaty, signature role that requires enough gravitas to hold the weight of her darkness and enough innocence to incite the audience to compassion. Cinnamon Schultz does a convincing job. Her nervous gulps of whiskey and shaking hands make her anxiety palpable; you start fidgeting in your seat just by watching her.
The other actors are also well-suited to their roles. As Stanley, Tommy Gorrebeeck exudes an upfront sexuality and an ability to change moods lightning-quick. Stella is often described as a woman driven by her attraction to Stanley, but Bree Elrod also infuses her with an element of stubborn independence, so you get the sense she broke with her family’s traditions simply because it suited her. Matt Rapport’s Mitch is awkward and kind, but capable of anger (or what Blanche would call “commonness”) when faced with Blanche’s lies.
The actors take on their characters’ accents: upper-class Mississippi for Blanche and Stella, a New Orleans Yat for Stanley. These can be distracting at times, calling attention to the sound of the words more than the content and character behind them.
Though the pace lulls a bit during the middle act, director Sidonie Garrett does a good job building rhythm into the play. The actors go big when it’s called for but aren’t afraid to downplay a line to add more texture. Small gestures add subtext to the scenes and elicited a surprising sprinkling of laughter from the audience.
Light and darkness is a recurring motif in the play, and the lighting design by Shane Rowse serves to complement the effects the characters create themselves on the set. Sound designer David Kiehl makes use of a recurring polka tune when Blanche thinks about her young, dead husband; while it comes off as slightly on-the-nose, it works to underscore Blanche’s ultimate source of melancholy.
The downward spiral of Blanche’s life stems from her desire for love. And in this, the play tells us, we are all equally human.