American brutality

A Streetcar Named Desire

Don’t get between an American thug and his woman.

Don’t get between an American thug and his woman.

Big Idea Theatre

1616 Del Paso Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95815

(916) 390-9485

Rated 5.0

Here’s the American lesson: Never depend upon the kindness of strangers, even if they happen to be married to family.

There’s no other way to say it. Tennessee Williams is the backbone of 20th-century American theater, and A Streetcar Named Desire is his greatest accomplishment. In its detailed deconstruction of Southern mythology, its subtle but sure condemnation of gender roles and its revelations about the relationship between desire and death, Streetcar is a masterful work.

It has the added advantage of containing two of the most difficult, demanding and rewarding roles an actor can ever undertake: Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois. That’s also a disadvantage; any production of Streetcar fails or succeeds on the strength of those two performances, and the audience knows within 10 minutes of the opening curtain which it will be.

The good news is that 10 minutes into Big Idea’s new production of Streetcar, Shannon Mahoney’s Blanche had stolen the audience’s heart, while Matt Thompson’s Stanley was radiating the menace of a leashed panther. This production works.

That’s not to say there weren’t a handful of minor glitches—a dropped accent here and there, mostly—but this show was right on the streetcar’s rails all the way through. The supporting cast, especially Alexandra Ralph’s self-deluding but still strong Stella and Justin Lee Chapman’s heart-rending turn as Mitch, was also amazing. Also worth noting was Laura Kaya’s performance, as she came close to stealing a couple of scenes as neighbor Eunice.

But this show belongs to Blanche and Stanley; the old, brittle and fading South; and the new, hard-edged working class, doing battle head to head.

Mahoney deftly puts a nervous edge to even the most innocuous of Blanche’s moves, leaving us convinced that her fragility is not a put-on. It’s not so much that she depends upon the kindness of strangers as that she has a quality that makes strangers desire to be kind to her—at least, any stranger who’s not Stanley. In that role, Thompson overcomes the handicap of a pretty, boyish face (surely not a handicap in other roles) to unleash the thug within. Still, his dark and violent brute is not so out of control that he can’t show a certain vulnerability where his wife is concerned. Thompson makes it clear that Stanley is capable of great love, if only so that we can understand the power of his hatred for Blanche.

Director Jessica Berkey has paced the show so that it never lags, yet we have no trouble following the passage of time. What’s more, she’s taken advantage of good lighting design by Brian Harrower to keep the show moving quickly between scenes and to direct our attention to different parts of the expansive and realistic set.

Any critic will feel some trepidation at the thought of an American classic like Streetcar in the hands of a small community theater. That was put to rest quickly with Big Idea’s show. They’ve been on a hot streak this season, and this production of Streetcar is proof that the troupe has drawn yet another good hand. It’s also a real treat for area theater lovers to see a quality production of one of the most important plays of our time.