Director Southerland Promises a Stella-r Production
By Christine R. Walsh
One of the greatest American plays, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, is scheduled to grace the stage of Foothills Theatre this Spring and Artistic Director Russell Garrett could not be more thrilled. Garrett predicts that this production will be a fresh and intriguing take on the beloved theatrical (and literary…and cinematic ~ who can forget Marlon Brando’s amazing turn as Stanley in the 1951 film) classic.
“I knew from the beginning that if I went to Jason Southerland and said, ‘I want you to direct this for me,’ I knew he wouldn’t approach it in a typical way,” recalled Garrett in a recent interview. “Southerland is the Artistic Director of his own theatre company in Boston, Boston Theatre Works. He created and runs that organization.”
According to Garrett, Southerland enjoys taking a different look at time-tested productions and eliciting elements that the audience may not have previously picked up on. His fresh takes and ideas are quite successful with audiences as well. For example, in Southerland’s recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Artistic Director opted to gender swap the roles of Oberon and Titania.
“[Southerland] likes to shake things up a bit,” Garrett noted.
In A Streetcar Named Desire, we meet a powerful group of characters ~ beginning with Blanche DuBois. Blanche, who might be described as yesterday’s belle of the ball, has come to New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella and Stella’s emotionally and physically abusive husband, Stanley. One can see that Blanche doesn’t have the best grip on reality after recently being fired from her job as a teacher for having an affair with a student and then entering a brief marriage during which she discovered her husband was having a homosexual affair. Still, Blanche searches for approval from men at every chance she can get.
Stanley discovers Blanche’s lurid past and uses it against her, sending her further into mental instability.
Garrett is extremely excited about the early plans of Southerland for bringing to life Blanche’s descent into madness.
“From what Southerland has described,” said Garrett, “it is almost like the play is taking place in Blanche’s mind. It’s like a possible version of what happens if she goes to New Orleans to visit her sister, Stella. I saw an early set design model that the designer sent me the other day. The set is very fractured. It is not a realistic tenement dwelling in New Orleans. Lots of fractured pieces because it resembles Blanche’s state of mind, which is disintegrating. She’s not quite in touch with the truth.”
At the time of the interview, the cast had yet to begin rehearsal. And there was one key element missing, according to Garrett.
“At this point, we are still on the search for the character of Stanley. We just haven’t found the right person,” said Garrett. “We thought we did, but the actor decided to go with a different job. So we are still hunting, but the rest of the people are in place and we are excited about them. Dee Nelson, who I think is a fine, fine actress is playing Blanche. She’s played Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter for Foothills and I think she is just one of the better actresses in New England.”
With an amazing director, talented actors and a set that is certain to take away the collective breath of the audience, A Streetcar Named Desire will be a show to remember. Garrett hopes that the audiences, who historically have not come out in great numbers for straight plays, will love Southerland’s creation.
“I hope people embrace it,” Garrett said. “The audience doesn’t embrace these classic plays in the same way they do the musicals, which I think is a shame because one of the things that a reasonable theatre like Foothills should do is give voice to these great plays. They are classics for a reason – they came on the scene when they did and made such a huge impact.”
Editor’s Note: By the time this article went to press, Brian Nemiroff had been cast as Stanley.
Pics: Brian Nemiroff as Stanley, Dee Nelson as Blanche
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