You have to be brave to witness the inner life of the Kowalskis.
Their home is one of dying hope, sexual violence and dark dysfunction that leaves no one unscathed.
Orcas Center’s raw production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” is unlike anything audiences have seen in this community. Director Robert Hall’s adaptation has viewers seated intimately close to the action so we see every tormented glance between cast members who are entirely microphone-free. The immersion is so complete that I could feel the humidity of that cramped apartment and longed for a lemon coke.
Playwright Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece revolves around schoolteacher Blanche DuBois, played by Katie Wlaysewski, who loses her family home in Mississippi and has no choice but to move in with her sister Stella Kowalski, portrayed by Katie Zwilling. Blanche is repulsed by Stella’s low-class life in New Orleans and her unrefined husband Stanley, played by Kelly Toombs. Don Yerly is Blanche’s love interest, Mitch. Supporting cast members are Andrea Cohen, Lew Thomas, Michael Armenia, Matthew Laslo, Val Hellar and Gillian Smith.
This is Wlaysewski’s first acting role, which makes her performance even more astounding. I was unable to tear my eyes away from her magnetic and gutsy portrayal of Blanche. Wlaysewski doesn’t hold back, and it is absolutely beautiful to watch. Zwilling is heartfelt and conflicted as she navigates between the two people she loves most. Stella is the foundation for the Blanche-Stanley war, and Zwilling captures all the passion, heartache and confusion that comes with it.
Veteran actor Toombs slides into the role of Stanley like it’s a well-fitting glove. He is charismatic and despicable. Yerly’s sincerity and innocence as Mitch is a stark contrast to the insecure alpha male persona of Stanley.
The language of Williams’ Pulitzer-prize-winning work is gorgeous. Listen carefully; you don’t want to miss any of it. Sound engineer Jake Perrine use music and light to propel the story forward and heighten emotion. The actors have committed themselves to their roles physically and soulfully; their hard work is evident in every scene.
Why should you see “A Streetcar Named Desire”? Because we still live in a world where it’s most often the woman’s fault, where beatings happen behind closed doors and where men think they have to overpower others to show their worth.
Remaining performances are Jan. 25-26 and Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. There is a 2 p.m. matinee on Jan. 27. Tickets are $20 with a special opening night price of $15 at www.orcascenter.org. The play is rated R for its brief nudity, mature themes and violence.