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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (article first published : 2002-07-11)

One of the most impressive productions on the main frame of the 2002 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown was Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning classic A Streetcar Named Desire, originally set in the deep South of America in the late 1940’s.

Directed by Lara Foot Newton and relocated to the Sophiatown of the 40’s, The Market Theatre’s presentation of A Streetcar Named Desire is performed on a superb set by Gerhard Marx. Performance areas include a piano where Michelle Maxwell provides jazz and bluesy interludes; the rundown and much-used kitchen; the bedroom with its sense of faded gentility, and an top story featuring the home of Eunice and Steve Hubbel. The train (the “streetcare” of the title) thunders past occasionally – there is no peace or quiet in this area.

The leading characters of Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois were played in the memorable Elia Kazan film version in 1950 by Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. Both were considered to have given one of the finest performances of their careers in the movie. And it is against their performances that other Stanleys and Blanches tend to be measured.

The play deals a lot with alcohol and the tempers and moods that can be unleashed by its uncontrolled consumption. Tennessee Williams, himself a drug and alcohol addict, grew up in a home where violent arguments were the norm. He wrote the play in 1948 during one of the more stable periods of his life.

Some 54 years later in a South African context, Vusi Kunene and Moshidi Motshegwa take his volatile leading characters and firmly make them their own.

Vusi’s vocal powers are considerable and his Stanley was a dangerous and passionate character, exuded the right kind of brooding explosive energy that can so easily turn to violence. Moshidi gained the audience’s sympathy as the confused woman bordering on the brink of delusion and insanity. Feigning helplessness when it suits her, withholding sexual contact after overt invitations, and professing to maidenly blushes she puts up a show of refinement which crumbles when her actions turn against her.

A particularly beautiful performance came from Lindiwe Chibi as Stella, Blanche’s patient and loving sister. Sello Sebotsane also impressed as Mitch, the gentle giant who is driven to distraction by Blanche’s flirtations. Dudu Yender and Ramalao Makhene were utterly delightful as the volatile Hubbels.

In the main, this was a successful transposition of the play and Tennessee Williams’ powerful text shines through. The costumes were well designed and highly suitable. I did, however, miss the sense of suffocating heat that is so much part of the original. The music interludes were enjoyable but tended to interrupt rather than link scenes.

Having said all that, my colleague was blown away by the script as he had never seen the play before or the Kazan film. It worked extremely well for him and he was highly moved by Moshidi Motshegwa’s final scene. And, being more representative of the younger generation than I am, this response points to the fact that this version of Streetcar will reach a new audience with its impact and therefore achieve its objective. – Caroline Smart




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