A Streetcar Named Desire (Genesian) – theatre review

One of America’s most influential twentieth century plays A Streetcar Named Desire’ is now on at Sydney’s Genesian Theatre. Written in the 1940’s by Tennessee Williams, its content is as relevant today as it was then. Dramatic from start to finish, there is plenty to digest and take home from this finely crafted production.

Over two Acts, the story takes place in the modest, two-room rented apartment of Stanley and Stella Kowalski in New Orleans. One day, Stella’s well-to-do sister Blanche DuBois arrives. She describes their lodgings as “such a perilous place,” to which Stella takes offence. Blanche quickly backtracks, now complimenting the place as a “convenient location.” This is Blanche’s ongoing problem – she inadvertently says offensive statements (usually about people’s status or class) without thinking of the repercussions. Blanche carries an air of superiority about her, but she comes almost penniless and has overseen the loss of her inherited family estate Belle Reve, which Stella also has an interest in.

When Stanley learns about this, his dislike of Blanche intensifies, feeling that he has been robbed of his marital entitlements under the ‘Napoleonic Code.’ Stanley is a man with a quick and violent temper. He raids Blanche’s suitcase for evidence of her true situation and finds “genuine fox fur pieces a half mile long.” As time passes, the truth of Blanche’s life is revealed, including sexual betrayal by her husband, a fall into disgrace and an escalating mental illness fed by shame and guilt.

In the background, Stella tries to defend her sister whilst keeping Stanley at bay. But their turbulent relationship is a roller-coaster due to Stanley’s unpredictable mood swings. Along the way, romance emerges between Blanche and Mitch, one of Stanley’s poker buddies. However, it is a rocky road for them as well.

The circumstances in which the characters exist make it impossible for healthy, loving and lasting relationships to take hold. Williams’ plot is applicable to current times. Hopes and dreams of better futures get repeatably knocked down, until finally, the ‘warts and all’ of day-to-day living is the best outcome one can ever expect. The pain is made manageable by a constant supply of alcohol.

A good script always makes for a good play and William’s penchant for descriptive, sharp and biting dialogue is perfect. A Streetcar Named Desire covers many confronting social issues without glossing over or watering down – mental health, domestic violence, sexual abuse, post-war trauma, class inequities, alcohol abuse and discrimination, to name a few!

Under the direction of Tom Massey and co-direction of Meg Girdler, the talents of this cast were fully utilised. Giving an outstanding performance as Blanche DuBois was Georgia Britt. She knew this complicated character backwards and adopted all the foibles of Blanche without error. Similarly, Riley McNamara tapped into the idiosyncrasies of Stanley Kowalsksi with terrifying ease. Seemingly charming one minute, then reverting to violent outbursts the next, Riley captured this ex-soldier character so well. Playing the likable and loyal Stella was Ali Bendall. Ali navigated Stella’s sweetness yet firm resolve with expertise. In the role of Mitch was Matthew Doherty. A character not sure of his life path due to having to care for his ill mother, Matthew brought dignity and understanding to the role.

All supporting cast were notable as well: Rosie Daly as Eunice, Patrick Gallagher as Steve, Shaun Loretet as Pablo/Young Collector and Jenny Jacobs as Flower Seller/Nurse.

The production standard was excellent. A detailed set of the apartment and adjoining staircase allowed for multiple entry points. Costumes depicted the era well. Lighting and sound, together with background jazz and the southern drawl of the characters, created a very effective New Orleans atmosphere.

A Streetcar Named Desire delivers in so many ways. Strongly recommended.

A Streetcar Named Desire is at Genesian Theatre, 420 Kent Street, Sydney until 7 May 2023. Bookings: https://genesiantheatre.com.au

Paul Kiely
For more of Paul Kiely’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre

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