A Streetcar Arrives in Wellsboro
A Streetcar Named Desire is so woven into popular culture that you may not even realize how often you’ve seen it.
There was a wave of references to the iconic play, written by Tennessee Williams, in the 1990s. In an episode of The Simpsons titled “A Streetcar Named Marge,” Marge Simpson, so often trapped in the house as the counterweight to the mayhem unfolding around her, auditioned for a musical rendition of Streetcar.
Seinfeld dipped into the Streetcar well when Elaine took muscle relaxants and screamed, at a cocktail party, her eyes squinting, teeth bucking out, “Stella…STELLA!” in an ode to Marlon Brando’s Stanley in the Hollywood version of the play.
And it’s coming to Wellsboro’s Deane Center for the Performing Arts (www.deanecenter.com/a-streetcar-named-desire; 570-724-6220) for three dates—May 15, 16, and 17—to show the world how Stella Kowalski deals with a passionate husband (Stanley) and how Blanche Du Bois, Stella’s sister, descends into madness and ultimately relies, of course, on the kindness of strangers.
Much of the excitement hinges not on the production itself, but where the production bases itself. The Bleecker Company hails from New York City, the Mecca for everything performance, whether it be Broadway, Off- Broadway, or that guy playing buckets in the subway. And, of all places, this company, who has employed such actors as Hugh Jackman, Ralph Macchio, and Anne Meara, makes its return to Wellsboro.
“Everybody knows the name Streetcar Named Desire, so to see [the audience] learn the story will be fun,” says Deane Center Executive Director Deb Bastian. “It has such a twist in it. What a challenge Blanche [Du Bois] has as her world crumbles.”
The Bleecker Company has been to Wellsboro in the past. Its first performance was SMILE: A Southern Rock Musical that, among other actors, included Katy Frame, a goofy, pleasant-voiced performer and musician.
The Deane Center, in recent past, booked a musical duo titled—wait for it—Reformed Whores. It stars Marie Cecile Anderson and Katy Frame.
And it is Frame who makes her return to Wellsboro—her fourth trip to the Black Box Theater—as Stella Kowalski, the sister to the embattled Blanche in hot, swoony, sweaty 1940s New Orleans.
“Wellsboro is always a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of New York City, but performing in Wellsboro also gives us a chance to take more risks with the work,” Frame said via email. “There aren’t the same pressures here like worrying about a bad New York Times review and all that jazz, so as an artist it’s an ideal environment. New Yorkers can also be a pretty tough audience. They’ve seen it all, or at least they like to think they have, so it’s a welcome relief to perform in front of a different kind of crowd.”
Peter Zinn, the director of Streetcar, forged a strong relationship with Bastian and the Deane Center, having already been here with SMILE. Now, Bleecker and Zinn bring an old favorite to Wellsboro.
“SMILE was such a success and the community was so welcoming. Peter Zinn said they loved Wellsboro,” Bastian says. “They were looking for that opportunity to bring the performers out and do shows they can’t normally do. We get along so well.”
It goes without saying that Streetcar is a highly coveted play. As a result, the rights to perform such a play are astronomical in the Big Apple. Thankfully, Wellsboro affords Bleecker the chance to produce it.
“The actors are very excited to do Streetcar,” Bastian says. “It’s very expensive and they can’t buy the rights in New York City. We’re affordable for them.”
Excited doesn’t quite cover it for Frame. If there ever were an academic track in Streetcar, she’d be valedictorian. “Hang in there because I’m about to nerd out for a minute,” she says.
Frame, as she puts it, has spent a lot of time with Stella. She’s done scenes from the play and once took a class solely focused on Streetcar. She visited New Orleans with her comedy band in March and let the city wash over her. Frame began to understand what Stella meant when she tells Blanche, “New Orleans isn’t like other cities.”
Frame discovers new things in the script the deeper she immerses herself in the scenes. She’s done her homework and now it’s time to put all that preparation into action.
“You have to let the play seep into you, especially with a play as rich as Streetcar,” Frame said. “But, of course, one of the most important parts is working off the other actors. You can sit with the play alone in a room as much as you want—and it is important to do that. But the most important—and most difficult—part is to let go of all that preparation, trust that the work you put in is there, and actually work off your Stanley, your Blanche, your Mitch, etc. Your decisions from moment to moment should be coming from what is happening in the moment with the other actors, not from stuff you decided last week or whatever.”
And, on top of all this, local schools are invited to view the dress rehearsal of Streetcar on May 14, then the actors will field questions from students about what it takes to be an actor traveling the country to find any venue to put their craft to work for anyone with the eyes, the money, and the interest to see them perform.
“I hope we can show our audience what A Streetcar Named Desire is all about,” Frame says. “Passion, rage, desperation—all the feelings! And I hope we can spark in them an interest in Tennessee Williams and in classic American theater!”