Review: 'A Streetcar Named Desire' at Spirit Fire Theatre

Vicki Trask

  • Calgary Critic

When I attended the opening night performance of “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Thursday November 17th 2016, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. This is a classic play performed by incredibly talented actors with a new company in Calgary, in a theatre with the second most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever had to sit in for two and a half hours. 

Spirit Fire Theatre is a new company in Calgary, hosting their second ever performance in the Pumphouse Theatre to a crowd of friends, family, and supportive theatre goers. Beyond the plays they perform, I love that Spirit Fire has a cause, and a theme, and a goal they’re working towards. Raising awareness and funds for victims of domestic abuse is an absolutely worthy cause and performing stories that focus on that theme really brings the message home. 
Before I talk about the actors and my overall experience, I would like to applaud Hanne Loosen for her incredible set design. The exposed nature of every room kept the actors on and honest, and I loved every little detail she added to the set; things we never even see but add to the mood of the room.  I liked the function of the two-story design and I place it on the actors to know that they are seen no matter where they are on stage, so I hope that they know when it’s okay to move and speak – even behind closed doors.

Blanche, played by Hayley Feigs, arrives in her sister’s run down home, with horrible news and a nervous disposition that only gets worse. For those of you who have read or seen this Tennessee Williams classic, I don’t need to tell you that first impressions are everything. I thought Hayley nailed her entrance. She was equal parts, charming, anxious, and controlling. There were moments I found her to be too nervous – only in that I couldn’t understand her breathy words. Especially with an accent like that, a few of her lines were lost to diction and a chewy drawl. I found her anxious energy to be well suited to the role and she led her fellow actors with just the right amount of grace and dignity.

Stella, the charming, abused housewife, is played by a quiet and mousey Sasha Barry. If it’s possible to be too meek in the face of adversity, I’ve found the woman to play her. I found Sasha’s performance to be sweet, well-rehearsed, and generally very timid. Even when she was yelling, screaming, and crying out, I felt a disconnection between her words and her energy. It was always subdued – which is a trait I would use to describe Stella, of course – but I needed a more active and present performance.

And then there’s Stanley. David Haysom acts as Producing Artistic Director and villain in this production. Stanley is the tangible antagonist in this story and as such, he carries a lot of weight and expectation with him. He needs to be charming one minute and a monster the next. He is the embodiment of an old world tradition where man is king of his own home and his wife is not queen but servant. When those ideals are challenged, he lashes out. That’s a heavy burden for an actor to bring with him on stage. I just couldn’t believe it from David. When he stepped on that stage he was handsy and impish but for me, what sells Stanley is the moment before he explodes. Before he takes on the Hyde persona and takes violent control. That’s the moment I didn’t see from David. He went from point A to point B with no journey in the middle. I wanted to physically and emotionally see that transition. No matter how charming, no matter how brutish, it didn’t connect for me.

Mitch, played by Luigi Riscaldino, was equal parts tragic and sweet – the foil and friend to Stanley’s old world views. And of course, Meg Farhall played a struggling and heartbreaking Eunice trying to just “make it through” because what other option is there? 

The rest of the cast were great; adding humor and humanity to this tragic story with their pocket moments.

Steve – Michael Rolfe
Pablo – AJ Anwar
Negro/Mexican Woman – Vanessa Jette
Nurse – Chenise Mitchell
Doctor – Grayson Ogle
A Young Collector – Jacob Lesiuk

Director Paul Welch has assembled a fine cast of actors to tell this story and I did fall in love with them, despite my apprehensions. The set was amazing, the actors overall presented an engaging story, and I was completely seduced by this two-act production.

Taking in classic theatre like “A Streetcar Named Desire” is quintessential to a healthy theatre life and you must take it in when it’s available to you. I can heartily recommend this production for as long as it’s playing at the Victor Mitchell Theatre – until November 26th.