The fact that the new Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ culture-clash classic A Streetcar Named Desire has a multicultural cast turns out to be a nonissue.
As long as the poetry is served, it doesn’t matter what color the actors are, especially if they’re game for the challenge. And in this case, you don’t even think twice when boorish Stanley (Blair Underwood) talks about how his wife’s sister Blanche (Nicole Ari Parker) let the family’s plantation house slip through her “lily white fingers.”
He says it with a condescension that makes you feel he meant it euphemistically–as a dis on her grandiosity–and even if he didn’t, he might be spewing out a reference to his sense that Blanche lives up to her name; she’s light skinned.
In all of its shades, Emily Mann‘s production mines the rich humor in the play (yes, Williams wanted you to laugh a lot) while going for a grounded, conversational approach that avoids hokey mannerisms if also skirting heated drama.
Parker–who sounds reminiscent of a young Lena Horne–doesn’t aim for a fluttery, ultra vulnerable faded belle, instead making Blanche seem direct, straight talking, and almost unbeatable in Act One.
Parker hides the cracks a little too well.
Conversely, Underwood doesn’t bristle with menace, so his Stanley comes off like an impatient but fairly reasonable guy prone to occasional bouts of violence.
As a result, the battle between Blanche and Stanley–supposedly one between distraught elegance and brute disregard for niceties–doesn’t have the spark it could.
But Parker is committed, doing best when she turns on her battered charm with Stanley’s friend Mitch and with a young delivery boy, simultaneously twinkling and spiraling.
Mann takes them (and Daphne Rubin-Vega as the conflicted Stella and Wood Harris as the disillusioned Mitch) through a Streetcar whose straightforward approach deprives us of a central battle royale–or of crackling electricity–but whose affection for the text still merits the kindness of strangers.