Of the many plays by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire is considered his most popular work and, arguably, his best.
“I think it’s one of the most brilliantly constructed plays I’ve ever been able to work on,” says Kathy McCafferty, who will be playing Southern belle Blanche DuBois at Palm Beach Dramaworks, opening this Friday. “The language is gorgeous. And it’s just heart-breaking. In a beautiful way.”
Having suffered several emotional and financial setbacks, Blanche seeks refuge with her sister Stella and her brutish brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski in their humble New Orleans tenement.
“The structure, the dynamism of the characters, it probably has some of the most layered characters in any play you’re going to find,” offers Danny Gavigan, making his Dramaworks debut as Stanley. “Every second of this play is incredibly complex, and the language is so ripe and rich and alive.”
Streetcar first appeared on Broadway in 1947, yet it remains timeless today. “I challenge anyone in the audience to not relate to death in the family, loss of property, inability to pay medical bills, ageism, loneliness, heartbreak, fear,” says McCafferty, who was previously featured in PBD’s The Little Foxes and Outside Mullingar. “I think a lot of that stuff is still relevant, in terms of families going into debt for many reasons – for healthcare, taking care of children, taking care of elderly parents, funeral costs. Williams doesn’t make it one thing, he makes it five things.”
“This is my first heft of doing this particular Williams,” notes J. Barry Lewis, the company’s resident director. “It’s an extraordinary journey. These characters are so iconic. There are very few plays that cast such a shadow. Everyone has an image of the work and what they think it is truly about. For these three main characters, the poetry is extraordinary, but they don’t know how to talk to each other, how to communicate their needs. They see the world very differently.”
Seventy-two years ago, the play’s raw power and frank dialogue was considered shocking to audiences, an impact that it retains to today.
“We don’t set out with that goal in mind,” concedes Gavigan, “but to achieve that you get the audience to fall in love with these characters all over again, so that we can break their hearts when these events befall them.”
“I think that pain and heartbreak are in and of themselves a shock to the system,” adds McCafferty. “Blanche is a sexual creature who is trying to start over, trying not to repeat the sins of the past. Trying not to give in to her nature. I find some of the things that she does, as I’m doing them, a bit shocking.”
Looming over the play – for the audience and for the actors – are the iconic performances of Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh and Jessica Tandy on screen and onstage.
“At first when I approached this script, as I was growing up, Brando was my hero. It was all I could do to get his voice out of my mind,” says Gavigan. “It’s very much Blanche’s story, she is the focal point. But Brando became a star from this, and he is the hero in some eyes.” Although Gavigan jokes that he can do a first-rate Brando impersonation, we will not be seeing it in the Dramaworks production.
“No, you’ve got to put it out of your mind. You avoid all of that stuff and focus on your own work,” he says.
The appeal of Streetcar is in Williams’ lyrical language. “The audience may think they remember it, but to hear that language in real time is just such a treat,” says McCafferty.
The theatrical journey includes an incisive look back at the way we were. “I think we live in a time right now where we’re recognizing how this country has treated women,” says Gavigan. “It’s easy to see where we’ve come from and where we still need to go.”
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Friday, Oct. 11 to Sunday, Nov. 3. $77. 561-514-4042 or visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.