Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
"A Streetcar Named Desire" should pulse with both spiritual and physical passions. Arena Stage's new production, which opened Wednesday night to run through March 12, is curiously passionless, even lifeless.
It is not the play's age. Indeed, Arena here salutes the anniversary of Tennessee Williams' drama, which opened in New York 30 years ago last December. It can be said that this play contributed to change in American theater and life, and while our attitudes have changed, I do not believe the drama has altered so much as it seems to have under the direction of Marshall W. Mason.
What Mason fatally has neglected is the play's inner rhythms. He has allowed each scene, each word, each syllable, to be given a metronome beat. Each development comes at the same dogged pace, from an imaginative beginning indicating his grasp of central staging to the sorrowful procession when the play ends.
Diane Kagan, who would seem an ideal choice for Blanche DuBois, arrives in New Orleans as her sister's unexpected and her brother-in-law's unwanted guest. Her comfort in clothes and perfume, her lolling in a hot tub, her fear that the reasons for her departure from her teaching job will be known, her hope that in Mitch she finally has found a haven, her rape by Stanley Kolwalski the night his son and her nephew is born and her fear and acceptance of the two who call to take her to the asylum, all are accomplished in the same measured tempo.
Mason's distrust of the play is clear as the rape scene begins. Mason shatters our attention by directing a sailor, whom we have met before, to stroll down the street near a fountain. The sailor's soundless action is pointless and comes at the very moment when our eyes and minds should be riveted on the action between Blanche and Stanley.
This is the scene that justifies Blanche and condemns Stanley. To draw our attention from its import reveals the director's curious insecurity.
For while the play's sensationalism seemed one of its most striking qualities originally, what endures is its lyricism. The lines and the scenes should be spoken and played with the unevenness of butterflies in flight, now darting, now still, now fluttering, now swiftly vanished.
For these reasons I find it difficult to blame Kagan for a Blanche who almost never moves us. The Stanley Kowalski of Edward J. Moore looks right enough physically, but his speech betrays Moore as an intelligent gentleman playing a part. This might partially be because Marlon Brando evidently set his mark on Stanley for all time, but Moore's diction is never Stanley's.
Lindsay Crouse, as sister Stella, and Stanley Anderson, as Mitch, give the most impressive performances. There is a moment - one of the most alive in the production - of deep credibility when Crouse merely looks up at the raving Blanche and laughs. Anderson's taut performance brings out the best of Kagan's Blanche. here the tempo and the rhythm of speech and scene have variety and tensions.
The incidental music of Norman L. Berman is splendidly evocative; I quarrele with the use of a gunshot at fitting moments in Blanche's reveries. Is the sound of the shot, quick and piercing, effective or is it just one more of Mason's distrustful gambits? The latter, I fear.