A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
Wright State University respectably embraces the sexual heat and damaging dysfunction within Tennessee Williams’ splendid 1948 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “A Streetcar Named Desire.” However, the action, directed by Jason Podplesky, occasionally glides off-kilter, specifically in Act 1 when character-conscious decisions are paramount to ground this searing tale of betrayal and pain.
When faded, fragile Southern belle Blanche DuBois (Ellie Margolis) enters the New Orleans home of her sister Stella Kowalkski (MacKenzie Stephens) and brother-in-law Stanley (Tommy DiMassimo), it’s puzzling to see Stella greet Blanche nonchalantly. There should be an immediate connection, an immediate history, established between these two women. Strangely, it seems as if Blanche is initially viewed as an intruder rather than a loved one genuinely seeking solace emotionally and physically. Many scenes later, Stanley overhears Blanche telling Stella how much she despises him, but Stanley’s contemplative reactions are intended to generate sympathy which doesn’t feel authentic to the moment. As one of the most arrogant, disgraceful and crude men ever created, Stanley shouldn’t have to pause to second guess anything because his temperament simply doesn’t call for it. Why should he care about Blanche’s opinion? On the opposite end of the spectrum, the utmost importance of David J. Castellano’s set is to indicate cramped, dingy intimacy, but his design is too clean and spacious. When did the Kowalskis move to the Homearama section of working class Elysian Fields?
Still, these artistic predicaments do not hinder an assortment of powerful performances. The remarkably astute Ellie Margolis (attractively costumed by Emily Sollinger and memorable last season as Lady Catherine de Bourgh in WSU’s “Pride and Prejudice”) impressively navigates the role’s challenging, multifaceted arc especially Blanche’s humorously tipsy tendencies (Margolis’ comedic timing is very enlivening) and heartbreaking unease stemming from the death of her gay ex-husband which still rattles her to the core. The physically imposing DiMassimo (another “Pride and Prejudice” standout as Mr. Darcy) winningly embodies Stanley’s volatile, dangerous and unpredictable brutishness just as Williams intended, particularly as Stanley launches into detective mode setting in motion Blanche’s unfortunate demise. Stephens, pleasantly compatible with DiMassimo, becomes very impactful when Stella reminds Stanley of Blanche’s hardships in an attempt to help fill in the blanks. The dynamic Cody Lewis is a perfectly genial fit as vulnerable bachelor Harold “Mitch” Mitchell, Stanley’s military buddy/co-worker who sides with him when the going gets tough and perhaps lives to regret allowing Blanche to walk out of his life. The cast includes Julia Gomez (particularly terrific as Eunice Hubell in the unnerving final scene), Joey Logan (Steve Hubell), Owen Kresse (Pablo Gonzales), Christian Schaefer (Doctor), Megan Valle (Nurse), Brittany Williams (Neighbor Woman), Nerissa Johnson and Alejandria Solis (beautifully haunting Flower Women), and Ian Patrick Ashwell (Young Collector) along with ensemble members Kenneth Erard, Clint Hinderer, Kat Tilt, Alexia Vlahos, and trombonist Haley Knuth.
This “Streetcar” is not without bumps, but arrives at a satisfying finish nonetheless anchored by Margolis’ captivating finesse.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” continues through Feb. 7 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Fairborn. Performances are Jan. 30, Feb. 5 and Feb. 6 at 8 p.m., Feb. 3 and Feb. 4 at 7 p.m., and Jan. 31, Feb. 6 and Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. The production runs 2 hours and 50 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $22 for adults and $20 for seniors and students. For tickets or more information, call WSU box office at (937) 775-2500 or visit www.wright.edu/theatre-dance-and-motion-pictures/performances/ticket-information
THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT, THE SMELL OF THE CROWD
Delightful tunes and a committed cast are great benefits within Dayton Playhouse’s sufficient production of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s rarely staged 1965 British musical comedy “The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd.”
Set at a rocky place at dawn, colorfully realized within a forest setting by scenic designer Chris Newman, “Roar…” symbolically examines status and power between the privileged and downtrodden by way of a continuous, tiresome game of one-upmanship. The wealthy Sir, authoritatively representing the upper class, cruelly and constantly bends the rules to his advantage which absolutely perplexes the meek, kindhearted Cocky, embodying the lower class. As Sir’s treachery and teasing progresses, Cocky realizes he’s been trapped in a foolish, embarrassing exercise. He ultimately seeks to outwit Sir and valiantly regain his self-esteem.
Sir and Cocky’s peculiar relationship runs an odd gamut from charming to deplorable, but director Jim Lockwood commendably keeps spirits high even when the stagnant script dips into racist waters. Bricusse and Newley briefly pulls the rug out from under the audience in Act 2 by having Cocky swap ranks with Sir when an African-American desires to join their offbeat contest. It is an alarmingly uncomfortable moment serving as a cautious reminder that not much has changed in 50 years. Beyond race relations, it is also apparent how relevant this material is in terms of one’s pursuit of happiness. After all, at some point in time, a Sir or Cocky will enter your life determined to keep you from believing in your potential.
J. Gary Thompson (a fittingly arrogant, hypocritical Sir) and Ted Eltzroth (an amiable Cocky) are well-matched and receive the bulk of the dandy score which includes such standards as “A Wonderful Day Like Today,” “The Joker,” “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me),” and “Nothing Can Stop Me Now!” Eltzroth particularly shines in the pulsating “Joker” fueled by firm accompaniment by musical director Judy Mansky’s orchestra, specifically percussionists Zach Green and Felicia Dellis. Admirable featured portrayals are offered by Christy Carson (The Kid, Sir’s trusty sidekick), lovely soprano Krissy McKim-Barker (joining Eltzroth for the beautiful “My First Love Song” as The Girl), Naman Clark (providing an expressive rendition of “Feeling Good” as The Negro), Don Ray (formidable as The Bully), and an engaging ensemble of Urchins consisting of Malcolm Casey, Kathleen Durig, Jamie Pavlofsky, Carrin Ragland, Stacey Ward, and Alicia Walton. Choreographer Allison Eder’s playful routines, particularly in numbers as “It Isn’t Enough” and “Put It In the Book,” are also noteworthy in this showcase bound to appeal to diehard musical theater fans who crave opportunities to see forgotten musicals.
“The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd” continues through Feb. 7 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Act One: 70 minutes. Act Two: 50 minutes. Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for seniors and students. For tickets or more information, call (937) 424-8477 or visit online at www.daytonplayhouse.com
Magnolia Theatre Company, Dayton’s only professional troupe devoted to producing female-centric plays/showcases, closes its second season with a wonderfully entertaining presentation of “Broadway Beveled: A Feminine Cabaret” at the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center.
In a fresh, unique twist, all the material in this breezy, intermission-less show (which is so good it should have been extended to two acts) stem from male-centric songs, scenes and monologues. How refreshing it is to see women expressing their viewpoints and nuances inside relationships, debates and yearnings typically revealed by men. In fact, it’s an outright thrill to see director/Magnolia founding artistic director Gina Handy and her enjoyable, elegantly dressed cast storm the stage as a female Congress in the terrific opener “Sit Down, John” (“1776”). But the boldest, most fascinating moments belong to two portions of David Mamet’s testosterone-driven “Glengarry Glen Ross” directed by Andréa Morales featuring Morales, Handy, Mandy Goodwin, Annie Pesch, and Fran Pesch. These diverse women of varying ages and personalities attack Mamet’s rhythms, vulgarity and cutthroat intent with compelling bite.
Additional standout sequences include Caitlin Larsen Deer’s hilarious “Drowsy Chaperone” monologue, Leah Mikesell, Annie Pesch and Morales’ New Yawkish take on the infectious “Fugue for Tinhorns,” Annie Pesch’s knockout physicality in a monologue from “One Man, Two Guvnors,” Handy’s smooth, pop-flavored “Corner of the Sky,” Megan Rehberg’s plaintive “This Nearly Was Mine,” Linda Kinnison Roth and Katie Momenee’s “Razzle Dazzle,” and an inspired “Rent”/“Newsies” mashup of “One Song Glory,” “King of New York,” and a double “Santa Fe” featuring Jasmine Easler, Annie Kalahurka (who also serves as a comical emcee), Goodwin, Momenee, and Morales. Also, Becca Kloha Strand provides choreography and Rebecca Childs serves as music director.
In an evening filled with joy and tenderness, special mention must be given to Annie and Fran Pesch’s radiant “No More” duet. The bond between mother and daughter cuts deep here as layers of subtext, memories and legacy fuels Stephen Sondheim’s gentle tune with a soaring, tear-jerking resonance. I can only hope Magnolia gives us more “Broadway Beveled” to see next season.
“Broadway Beveled: A Feminine Cabaret” continues through Jan. 31 in the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Performances are Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. The production runs 80 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $20 general admission and $15 for military, educators and students. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com.