Millar modulates perfectly —sometimes instantaneously or several times a scene— between Blanche’s vulnerability and what tenuous inner strength she has left. Blanche has become a hustler out of desperation and necessity, but she’s still a daughter of Belle Reve, the family’s former Mississippi plantation, and putting on airs substitutes for real self-respect. Like most good hustlers, Blanche is a perspicacious reader of other people, and Millar nails the subtleties of the character with a velvet-covered hammer.
Blanche’s nemesis is her brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, played by Tom Huston-Orr in a performance that perfectly balances Millar’s. Stanley is the quintessential bully, and his vicious bluster masks a vulnerability equal to Blanche’s. Williams doesn’t belabor Stanley’s self-doubt, but in one scene, the playwright and actor confirm that Stanley must see himself in a struggle for survival against Blanche. Huston-Orr’s Stanley menaces one minute and sweet-talks the next, but he’s always a volatile hothead, just as Stanley should be.The object of their affection is Stella, Stanley’s wife, played with success equaling Millar and Huston- Orr by Erin Hicks-Cheek. Where Blanche sees abuse by Stanley, Stella perceives a man making an extra effort to shower attention. Stella’s love for Stanley seems as absurd to us as it does to Blanche, but a cursory reading of newspapers confirms that this behavior still occurs today.
The production is OCTC’s best of the season, and it benefits from a fine supporting cast and Eric Stehl’s lighting design of Jason Foreman’s set design, evocative of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Brenda Nelson’s costumes look period authentic.
Richard Nelson directs the production with a light hand, and one reason may be that while he has been directing “Streetcar,” he’s been playing Trigorin in “The Seagull” for Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park. Similarly, D. Lance Marsh directed “Seagull” for OSP and is playing Mitch in “Streetcar.” One wonders how these actor-directors accomplished the feat of being in two places at the same time, but they’ve done it, and both shows are well staged.
Nelson has been faithful to the script, and the production simmers but never reaches a full boil. You won’t see a new or revealing interpretation in this “Streetcar,” but the performances of Millar, Huston- Orr and Hicks-Cheek keep the audience’s eyes focused on the stage at all times. You don’t want to blink for fear of missing something.
It’s interesting that 2011 is the 100th anniversary of Williams’ birth, but this is the only production of any of his plays in the city this year. Why no coordinated effort to stage some of his less frequently done plays? Alas, an opportunity missed.