It is hard to believe that, after 69 years of shows, Asheville Community Theatre is only just now staging A Streetcar Named Desire. The acclaimed Tennessee Williams play is one of the definitive works of the 20th century, if not of all time. It’s a mark against which other works of theater are measured. Whatever the reason for waiting until 2015 to produce it, ACT has a top-notch production worth seeing.
Before a word is uttered on stage, the audience is awe-struck by the set. Constructed by Jack Lindsay, it fills the wide ACT stage. It looks and feels like it has been plucked out of New Orleans circa 1950 and dropped into downtown Asheville.
The cast bring the story to life. Steven Turner in particular stands out among the supporting cast as upstairs neighbor and all around pal, Steve. Robert Dale Walker’s sad-sack turn as Mitch is also worth noting, as he brings a charming pathos to the show. But, of course, the main focus is on the triangle of Stella, Stanley and Blanche. These roles are as iconic as the show itself.
Devyn Ray gives Stella a sad, somewhat frumpy quality that makes her more of a mousy damsel than one might expect. It works well — her character is all the more tragic as the center of a tug-of-war between her husband and her sister. Stanley is given a smooth and serpentine quality by Dan Clancy, who is described by Blanche as being like an ape. However, thanks to Clancy’s steely take on the character, he comes across more as a viper, coiled and waiting to strike. The third in this triangle is Blanche, Stella’s sister, who comes to stay after calamity has befallen her. Stanley’s mission is unraveling the truth and exposing Blanche, who is both a bit of a victim and a bit of a predator herself. The role of Blanche requires a span of emotions that shift rapidly, a psychological depth where many might fear to go. Not so with Jennifer Russ, who has steadily been making a name for herself in local theater for a few years. Her performance as Blanche is — a sad and often harrowing take on this legendary role — is a career peak.
Director Jerry Crouch, known for his work on hit musicals for ACT, turns out to be an inspired choice for this non-musical. The show has a smooth and steady pace that is perfectly fitting for the script’s New Orleans setting. Crouch has guided the cast into the jazzlike tempos one expects to hear oozing out of the alleyways of the French Quarter.
A Streetcar Named Desire runs through Sunday, May 3, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. $12-$22.