A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway
By Dwight Hobbes
Things on Broadway have grown fairly interesting, and are showing signs that they may just stay that way if the producing team of Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones have anything to say about it.
Tennessee Williams’ enduring classic A Streetcar Named Desire is getting a twist. Cast in the lead roles for the production in Manhattan at the Broadhurst Theatre, opening for previews on April 3, running April 22 through July 22, are Black actors.
It could be seen as simply a gimmicky take-the-money-and-run tactic, except that Byrd and Jones were behind the similar re-tooling of Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof back in 2008 with Terrence Howard, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad and James Earl Jones. And even the most cynical mind dares to be heartened by the fact that producers Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones are Black, that Byrd and Jones might just have an investment in making the Great White Way, well, a little less White.
A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by veteran Emily Mann, stars Blair Underwood, Nicole Ari Parker, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Wood Harris. If you’ve never see the film or the play, it’s the saga of former school teacher and socialite Blanche DuBois (Nicole Ari Parker) who has fallen on severely hard times and is forced to move in with her doting sister Stella (Daphne Rubin-Vega), and Stella’s not-so doting husband Stanley (Blair Underwood).
The emotionally fragile, intermittently delusional Blanche won’t face the fact that she brought about her own downfall, lusting after one of her students. The more she paints herself as pitiable victim of cruel circumstance, whining the famous quote, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” the less Stanley, a meat-and-potatoes type of guy who works on a garbage truck, is going for it. Push inexorably comes to shove in one the most powerful climaxes known to American theater.
Streetcar is a solidly crafted script that would probably do well with just warm bodies in the roles. Underwood, Parker, Rubin-Vega and Wood Harris (as Stanley’s friend and poker buddy Mitch) are considerably more than warm bodies.
Blair Underwood (Set It Off, Posse), in fact, should be quite interesting in this part. Usually, he shows up on film and television in suave understated fashion. To see him play the brutish, hotheaded Stanley should prove a fascinating experience. It will, at any rate, answer the question, “Does Underwood have range?”
Nicole Ari Parker (Soul Food, Black Dynamite), like a lot of pretty women, frequently is cast as eye candy. You can bet she’s looking forward to giving this complex character the dimension it calls for.
Daphne Rubin-Vega, who has done her best known work in television (New York Undercover, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) may wind up stealing the whole show from both Underwood and Parker. She has that kind of riveting presence and, for this critic’s money, director Emily Mann got it backward and should’ve put her in role of Blanche with Parker as Stella.
Wood Harris (The Wire, Next Day Air) has chops and hopefully will make the most of this part as a loyal sidekick who, when the chips are down, mans up to gives Stanley a piece of his mind.
So, if you’re planning a trip to New York this spring, you could do worse than to have A Streetcar Named Desire on the agenda. Yes, we’d like to see Black actors on Broadway doing plays by Black authors. Like the 2010 revival of August Wilson’s Fences with Denzel Washington, Viola Davis and Mykelti Williamson.
This, though, is nothing to sneeze at. Not by a long shot.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.