Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece “A Streetcar Named Desire” isn’t exactly known for its gentle treatment of women. The female characters suffer physical and psychological abuse, societal restraints and even rape — which makes it that much more powerful that two of Kansas City’s strongest female theater artists are part of the show.
Sidonie Garrett and Cinnamon Schultz have worked together for almost 20 years, and they’re coming together once again for Kansas City Actors Theatre’s new production of the Williams play, opening Sept. 7. Garrett, the executive artistic director of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, will direct. And Schultz, an Actors Theatre core member and frequent Shakespeare fest actress, will play Blanche, the tragic heroine of “Streetcar.”
Garrett said she won’t shy away from the challenging themes of the play; she actually pitched the show to the Actors Theatre because of them.
“There’s been so much talk about rape culture in our society and women’s roles in general,” she said. “Many things have changed but dynamically, male and female relationships have stayed the same.”
Those strained relationships are on full display in “Streetcar,” made famous in the iconic film starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. Blanche, a former Southern belle, moves in with her sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley after the death of her husband and loss of her family home. There, uncomfortable tensions rise between Blanche and Stanley, escalating into domestic abuse and psychotic crisis.
Thomas Gorrebeeck as Stanley, Bree Elrod as Stella and Matt Rapport as poker buddy Mitch round out the core cast.
This will be the first time Schultz appears in a Williams work, in what she calls the most difficult role of her life.
“To be able to do this one in particular, it was hard to say no,” Schultz said. “Of course, there’s a lot of nerves involved in portraying such an iconic role. I hope I can do justice to her character.”
Lucky that she and Garrett have such an established rapport, then. Both women said they share an implicit trust, which Garrett said allows them to look into the darker corners of the play without hesitation. She’s confident in her cast (she said Schultz was actually the first person to come to mind for the role of Blanche), but the play itself makes their job easier.
“I think it’s a masterpiece,” said Garrett, who’s worked on other Williams plays, “The Glass Menagerie” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” “It’s unequaled in terms of writing and storytelling.”
“He writes beautifully,” Schultz added. “It’s very poetic, but at the same time it’s very realistic as well.”
“Streetcar” hasn’t been performed professionally in Kansas City since the production by the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre in 2007. The Actors Theatre’s mission is to present classical plays — so “Streetcar” was a natural choice.
But fans of the 1951 movie shouldn’t come expecting a carbon copy by any means.
“The most important thing for us is to look at this story with first-time eyes,” Garrett said. “It’s not the Marlon Brando story; this is our story.”
Also this week
For its debut performance, the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City presents “Dreamgirls in Concert,” Sept. 1-10 at the Paseo Performing Arts Center, 4747 Flora. The benefit show is a concert version of the musical about three young women trying to make it big as musicians. See brtkc.org.