photo credit: Matthew M. Hayashi
Written by Daniella Litvak
Tennessee Williams is in the pantheon of greatest playwrights of all time. The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama A Streetcar Named Desire is considered the crown jewel of his works. To this day, it remains a popular show for playhouses to produce. Santa Ana College initially planned to perform A Streetcar Named Desire in 2020. Then COVID happened. We are fortunate the Santa Ana College Theatre Arts Department didn’t abandon their plans because they put on an intense, remarkable version of it.
A Streetcar Named Desire begins with Blanche Dubois (Genevieve Kauper), an aging southern belle, traveling to New Orleans to stay with her younger sister Stella (Erica Jackson) and Stella’s boorish, abusive husband, Stanley Kowalski (Spike Pulice). Stella is happy to see her sister, but Blanche and Stanley don’t get along. Tensions between the two escalate when Blanche’s secrets come to light.
Williams set A Street Named Desire in the 1940s, the era it was written. Santa Ana College updates the setting to 1999. The update to the last days of the twentieth century primarily manifests in the set design, the costuming, and music.
The stage, depicting Stella and Stanley’s apartment, looks excellent because a glance instantly tells you much about their characters. They decorate their bedroom with unframed posters from Tarantino films and rock bands like Black Sabbath. The furniture is old and worn down. There are a lot of little details, like the debris strewn throughout, that make you believe this is a lived-in space occupied by immature people just scraping by.
The 90s update also allows for the costuming to express the contrast between the sisters visually. Blanche herself in 1940s fashions, but Stella’s costumes are very 90s. Without vocalizing it, we immediately understand Blanche is stuck in the past while Stella is tethered to the present.
The Rolling Stones song played at the close provides the perfect thematic summation to end the show. Stanley and his friends’ poker game, scored to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” was the moment when the show felt the most authentically 90s rather than a story transplanted to the 90s.
The performances make Santa Ana College’s A Streetcar Named Desire special. Across the board, the cast is strong. Kauper’s portrayal of Blanche is a tour de force. Even smaller roles, like the Young Collector, played by Kenny Tran, leave an impression because of the acting.
Blanche and Stanley are mostly remembered as the fragile southern belle and the dictionary definition of toxic masculinity. However, the characters are more nuanced than that. Blanche is manipulative, and Stanley has his pathetic moments. Kauper and Pulice capture the full range of their respective characters’ personalities.
A Streetcar Named Desire is a long play – approximately 3 hours, plus a 15-minute intermission. And because it unflinchingly depicts weighty subjects such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and alcoholism, there are moments when the play feels too long. However, Santa Ana College’s production is impressive and worth seeing.