Thursday, March 18, 2021


Rosemary Harris, James Farentino. 

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE [Dramatic Revival] A: Tennessee Williams; D: Ellis Rabb; S: Douglas W. Schmidt; C: Nancy Potts; L: John Gleason; M: Cathy McDonald; P: Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center; T: Vivian Beaumont Theatre; 4/26/73-7/29/73 (110); St. James Theatre; 10/4/73-11/18/73 (53). Total: 163

Philip Bosco, Rosemary Harris.

Revived on the 25th anniversary of its Broadway premiere, Tennessee Williams’s modern classic of sexual confrontation between the forces of fragile spirituality and raw sensualism provided the Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre with its finest hour. It was, however, shortly before the departure of founding artistic director Jules Irving after a shaky, eight-year tenure (originally shared with Jules Blau).

Alan Feinstein, Barbara eda-Young, Lois Nettleton.

The high-strung, delicate, ethereal Blanche DuBois, originally played by Jessica Tandy in 1947, and the crude, animalistic Stanley Kowalski, immortalized by Marlon Brando, were here given resonant performances by Rosemary Harris (succeeded by Lois Nettleton) and James Farentino (succeeded by Robert Forster and Allen Feinstein). Patricia Conolly (succeeded by Barbara eda-Young) and Philip Bosco (succeeded by Biff McGuire) provided strong support as Blanche’s sister, Stella, and Blanche’s suitor, Mitch. 

The strikingly staged production ran for three months at a time when other Lincoln Center productions, because of subscription seasons, ran only a little more than a month. Several months after closing, it was restaged by Irving for a commercial Broadway run. The new engagement did not tickle the critics’ fancy and was gone in less than two months.

Alan Feinstein, Lois Nettleton.
Rabb’s production, which Walter Kerr called “visually sensitive,” in no way threatened the play’s reputation as what many consider the greatest American drama. It actually strengthened that respect. Douglas W. Schmidt’s beautiful skeletal setting on the Beaumont’s capacious stage emphasized the isolation of the Kowalski home within the teeming French Quarter of New Orleans surrounding it. Rabb brought the streets of the Quarter to choreographically detailed life as background atmosphere for the downstage story, but the effect was often inorganic and distracting. To Douglas Watt it “seemed like watching unoccupied extras amusing themselves backstage.”

Rabb’s direction suffered from other flaws as well, but the production as a whole possessed a rare power that caused hearts to flutter. Martin Gottfried spoke for nearly all his colleagues when he observed that the play “is there in all its depth, pathos, humor, sensitivity and soulfulness. It has been a long time since the theatre moved me to tears.”

Centerpiece of the revival was Harris’s Blanche, a characterization fraught with delicate touches and affecting humor. For some, though, she was too distraught and shaken early in the action, allowing her little chance to develop and put on those airs that reveal her vulnerability. Some problems with the Southern accent were detected in the British actress’s delivery, and Blanche’s sexuality was somewhat muffled. “Lyricism and pathos seem beyond her,” griped John Simon, yet she drew such notices as the following, from Jack Kroll: “Rosemary Harris is brilliant. . . . Pale and lovely as a wounded dryad, she captures exactly the repressed rapacious gentility of one of the most beautiful” characters in American drama.

Farentino was a stolid, dependable Stanley, but could not shake the association of the role with Brando’s famous performance, preserved on film. His lack of inner fire seems to have diminished the electricity needed between Blanche and Stanley to make the air crackle with desire. Bosco’s Mitch was commendable, and Conolly’s Stella decent, if not stellar.

The return engagement had “a coarser, cheaper look,” and, thought Watt, it moved “much less smoothly” with its new cast (several having been replacements at Lincoln Center). Only a few critics thought Lois Nettleton and Alan Feinstein fully acceptable in the leads. A strong factor in the former’s favor, however, was her greater youthfulness, which was deemed appropriate for a woman the script identifies as around 30. Biff McGuire was Mitch and Barbara eda-Young was Stella.

Farentino won a Theatre World Award, Harris a Drama Desk Award, and Rabb an Outer Circle Award.

Next up: The Sty of the Blind Pig