Marin Mazzie and Christopher Innvar
in A Streetcar Named Desire
(© Kevin Sprague)
Marin Mazzie and Christopher Innvar
in A Streetcar Named Desire
(© Kevin Sprague)
Whenever anyone attempts a faithful revival of an esteemed classic, the first question that arises is whether the new production does the play justice. The second follows close behind: Does it bring something new to the picture? The answer to both questions in the glorious production of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, now at Barrington Stage Company, is a resounding yes. Indeed, this interpretation, under Julianne Boyd's respectful direction, argues for Streetcar's eminence as the play of the 20th Century.

Many an actress has foundered in the role of Streetcar's protagonist, Blanche DuBois. If one makes her too manipulative, she forfeits sympathy; yet if she's too fragile, the play is over before it has begun. Here, Marin Mazzie -- best known as one of Broadway's most accomplished musical leading ladies -- gives us a Blanche who starts out relatively robust. This Blanche has a hearty manner -- at least in the front she presents to the world -- and a smile to do Miss America proud. Back in Laurel, she'd have been the life of the party -- and not just in her imagination.

But as we know -- and as her sister, Stella (Kim Stauffer), and Stella's nothing-if-not-practical husband, Stanley (Christopher Innvar), will soon learn -- Blanche has arrived in New Orleans having reached the very end of her rope. Through encroaching poverty and so-called "poor choices," she has exhausted her options, having squandered not only the family fortune, but the sexual charms she's now too old to trade on. The sanctuary she seeks is long gone, as "lost" as her golden youth and the showplace that was Belle Reve.

Every emotion that Blanche feels and recalls, Mazzie fully inhabits -- you'd swear you could see her face actually aging before your eyes. And the most refreshing aspect of this interpretation is that Mazzie's Blanche doesn't seem inclined to make apologies for her descent into debasing sexual addiction. As Blanche counters almost boastfully when Mitch (Kevin Carolan) confronts her with Stanley's accusations, "I had many intimacies with strangers ... searching for protection -- in the most unlikely places." Mazzie willingly embraces all of Blanche's contradictions; she's a victim, but one who acknowledges that she has also been the agent of her own fate.

Physically, the production is almost perfection: Brian Prather's not over-literal set and Elizabeth Flauto's period costuming can't be faulted. However, it's overkill for lighting designer Scott Pinkney to underscore the strains of the "Varsoviana" polka (Blanche's memory music) with a shift to pink, and if only the two lead women weren't sporting obvious wigs that seem to endure New Orleans' heat without the slightest sign of wilting.

As for the cast, Innvar is very good as Stanley. He portrays a brute, plain and simple, without any fancy theatrics to call attention to his craft. Stauffer's Stella is a bit stiff to begin with -- she's not the happily besotted young earth mother we've come to expect in the role. Jennifer Regan and John Juback are excellent as the Kowalskis' passionately fractious neighbors. And in singing blues snippets to mark the scene changes (she also plays the morbid flower-vendor), Chavez Ravine creates an almost Pavlovian phenomenon: We can't wait for her next appearance. Still, this is Mazzie's show.