A Streetcar Named Desire

Dates and Venue 16, 17, 18 April @ 8pm; April 18 @ 2pm Tea Matinee | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Choreography John Alleyne, Music Tobin Stokes Set & Costume Kim Nielsen, Lighting Gerald King

Reviewer John Jane

When Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire, opened on Broadway in December, 1947, it immediately ignited the careers of two icons of American theatre: Williams himself and leading actor, the then 23 year old Marlon Brando.

Originally given the even more metaphorical title, Blanche's Chair on the Moon, It recounts the story of the emotional demise of the outwardly demure, yet fragile, Blanche DuBois when she moves to New Orleans and into the cramped apartment of her married, younger sister Stella and crude, belligerent brother-in-law Stanley.

Blanche is hardly planning on a visit. She has now reached the end of the road and has nowhere else to go. When Stanley senses that her presence is driving a wedge in his relationship with Stella he willfully sets about pushing her over the edge.

In its basic elements this Ballet British Columbia production remains essentially faithful to Tennessee Williams’ storyline. Though, as might be expected, it’s in the narrative style that it differs so markedly from the original telling.

Story adaptor John Murrell teams with choreographer John Alleyne in replacing Williams’ dense dialogue with a series of surreal flashbacks to show Blanche's past throughout the ballet. Alleyne’s choreography is certainly aesthetic with a distinct predilection towards the sensuality that is perhaps influenced from his time working in Europe as well as his Caribbean heritage.

Tobin Stokes’ recorded jazz fusion music fits so well with the gritty atmosphere of New Orleans French Quarter and rural Mississippi that at times is barely noticeable. Some passages being highly structured, some loosely improvised.

Vancouver North Shore born and raised, Simone Orlando has been an elegant presence with Ballet BC for more than a decade. There is certainly much evidence of the same verve and elegance that has characterized many of her previous performances in this physically challenging choreography. As the dance progresses, Blanche’s past and present collide and we see her mental state rapidly disintegrate through Ms Orlando’s vocabulary of movement.

Donald Sales offers an athletic and intentionally menacing performance as Stanley. His libidinous confidence produces sexual tension with Stella, at the same time making him a witting agent in Blanche’s eventual destabilization.

Marianne Bauer-Grobbelaar and Peter Smida show fine technique and expressive movement in the less difficult roles of Stella and Blanche’s oafish suitor, Mitch. Alexis Fletcher turns in a spirited performance as Stella's neighbour Eunice that summons a larger role than in the theatrical version.

Lead dancer Makaila Wallace features as the younger Blanche in the dream-like flashback sequences. The vocabulary is slower and deliberate, evoking Blanche’s memory of a more elegant time and place.

Kim Nielsen’s ornate set of a typically New Orleans wrought iron staircase and balcony together with Gerald King’s imaginative lighting create the necessary dramatic effect that aids the dancers convey linear story-telling.

After sixty-plus years, nothing appears to slow Streetcar’s momentum. After ending a controversial year on an artistic high, we hope Ballet BC’s momentum keeps going.

© 2009 John Jane