Tennessee Williams, one of America’s greatest playwrights, has his work reimagined in a new production by Ubuntu Theater Project in Oakland. A Streetcar Named Desire was presented with a subtle framework, while still packing the emotional punch and drama we have come to expect from Williams’ beloved classic.
A Streetcar Named Desire begins with Blanche DuBois arriving in New Orleans to live with her sister, Stella, and her sister’s husband, Stanley. As Blanche learns the truth about Stella and Stanley’s dysfunctional relationship, Blanche’s own past becomes known as Stanley uncovers the truth behind her life as a schoolteacher in Laurel, Mississippi.
Lisa Ramirez was a standout in this cast as the debutante herself Blanche DuBois. Her energy and commitment to the role was perfection as she dissented into Blanche’s madness, yet Ramirez still maintained the humor and playfulness associated with the character. Ogie Zulueta, who was seen in Ubuntu’s production of Rashomon last season, played the intense Stanley Kowalski. Zulueta’s Stanley was complicated with many dimensions to his anger. The audience was drawn to Stanley’s charisma and appalled by his brashness towards Stella, all in one scene. The cast was rounded out by an incredible ensemble, including Regina Morones, who sang the sweet sounds of the bayou with her soulful voice.
While traditionally seen in a bigger production, this version of Streetcar benefited from the smaller playing space. The focus shifts on the characters and their many complicated relationships, garnering the attention from the audience. Director Emilie Whelan did an excellent job making William’s writing really shine in this classic story of passion and betrayal.
One line that stuck out was one of Blanche’s pleas to Mitch, “I don’t want realism. I want magic!” We live in a world of theatregoers that want to go to the theater to escape for a few hours, and not focus on the problems they face in the outside world. However, for every Disney musical, there is a Tennessee Williams play. Many artists think of ways to offer escapism with “magic,” in order to satisfy an audience and their own creative needs. This production was a balancing act that was able to solve this problem. Ubuntu Theater Project stripped away the frills of New Orleans, while still maintain that Southern style in a warehouse setting. The actors in this production were able to keep the atmosphere of William’s work present while bringing their own vitality to his beloved characters.
It’s a challenge to reinvent a theater ingénue like Tennessee Williams, and Ubuntu Theater Project surpassed my expectations. With their first show so strong out the gate, I can’t wait to see what this growing theater company brings next to the Bay Area.
Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.