by: Sandi Durell

Forget that the big marketing campaign is about the fact that this mostly African-American cast was the hook; nor does it matter that Stanley dropped “Kowalski” and anything Polish was not referenced. The bottom line is how does this cast stand up performance-wise in Tennessee Williams’ masterful play?

Blair Underwood as Stanley, a gorgeous hunk of a man, is powerful, cruel and scary as a macho-man whose fuse is short, shorter and shortest throughout. He rules the roost and thinks nothing about beating his pregnant wife. Stella (played by Daphne Rubin-Vega) is quietly timid, keeps her boiling point at bay but unleashes it only to be rebuked physically and emotionally by her “apelike” husband, also unleashing the sexy, passionate elements that prevail.

When Stella’s older sister Blanche DuBois (Nicole Ari Parker) appears, unannounced, at the seedy 2 room hot and steamy New Orleans apartment with suitcase and trunk in tow, she is the image of grace and class, beautifully outfitted and filled with the language niceties of someone with breeding – a dignified lady. But Blanche’s sorted past and demons don’t allow for any comfort as she makes up tales only to be torn apart, emotionally and physically, by her rough n’ tumble brother-in-law. The problem here is that Ms. Parker is just too beautiful and relies too heavily on many of the laugh lines that come her way instead of concentrating more deeply on her tragic character who is concerned about how she has aged and doesn’t want to be seen in full light, especially when one of Stanley’s poker buddies shows interest. Mitch, played by Wood Harris, is more gentile than the tough-guys in the game, a perfect example of a timid, caring man living with his ailing mother. He would like to be married until he realizes he’s chosen the wrong woman. Blanche lies and uses her feminine wiles, not only on Mitch, but even with the young paperboy (Aaron Clifton Moten) with whom she flirts.

Somehow there’s not enough coal in the engine of this production, not enough passion, and so the audience laughs when they shouldn’t and when Stanley cries “Stellaaaaaah,” it, too, seems weak by comparison. The funeral march at the opening of Act 2 was a nice addition, but didn’t go anywhere. Perhaps it had to do with highlighting the iconic dancer Carmen de Lavallade. The supporting cast does a fine job including Amelia Campbell, Matthew Saldivar, Jacinto Taras Riddick, Count Stovali and Rosa Evangelina Arredondo.

Director Emily Mann took her cast and melded them into what she believed Williams would have been happy to see. The addition of Terence Blanchard’s original music was an asset along with Paul Tazewell’s costumes, especially outstanding on Blanche. Eugene Lee’s set exemplified the discomfort of poor living conditions during the era, aided by Edward Pierce’s lighting. “A Streetcar Named Desire” is at the Broadhurst Theatre on West 44th Street, NYC

Photo:Ken Howard