through April 27
Running Time: 2 hrs, 45 min
If you attend this Doghouse Theatre production, you'll find yourself traveling to a house in the heart of the University of Texas area. Frat houses and apartments abound. The "box office" is a table out front. Libations are provided in a metal tub brimming with ice, admission is "pay-what-you-wish," and the program is a single sheet photocopy with bare-bones information. The "stage" is the back yard, surrounded and dominated by the overhanging branches of trees and set with rudimentary furniture, the rear façade of the house, with its closed-in porch, back door, and single window, being used as part of the playing space. The night I attended, partyers could be heard from all directions. An air conditioner next door shut on and off throughout the performance, a breeze that sometimes became a wind rustled and whipped the trees, and a brown tabby kitten wandered in and out among spectators and actors. Could there be a setting more appropriate for what many consider to be the greatest American play ever written? After all, this Tennessee Williams opus, about the tarnished Southern flower Blanche Dubois, her love-struck sister Stella, Stella's brute husband Stanley, and the lonely lug Mitch, is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
In case it isn't obvious, I love the idea of Doghouse Theatre. I felt welcome from the moment I managed to wend and duck my way down the shrub-crowded sidewalk, the sounds of a University Friday Night bombarding me from all sides. Yes, I love the idea -- but the execution is something else.
Director Andre Carriere approaches Williams' script as if it is a blank canvas on which he can paint whatever he chooses. In several scenes, poker is played by a group of men, but instead of cards and chips the actors use a bowl of pennies, tossing or flicking them into the bowl. Blanche's trunk, filled with her belongings, is a tiny, pyramid shaped container filled with still tinier, circular pieces of paper. The booze, on the other hand, is quite representative and includes some conspicuous Pabst Blue Ribbon. More often than not, the actors spit the lines out so quickly that the story is lost or so quietly that they can't be heard. At no point did they seem to adjust to the conditions, which, while totally appropriate for the play, were rough in the truest sense. Often, Carriere would have most of the actors appear on the stage, whether their characters appeared in a scene or not. This was particularly true of Keith Sloan and Wendy Godwin as Steve and Eunice, the upstairs neighbors. Carriere seemed to use these two as representatives of male and female sexuality, constantly draped all over each other and Blanche. Often, they would say other characters' lines, most particularly Blanche's, either alone or in unison. Then, strangely, other characters began doing the same thing, and I started feeling more than a little ignorant because, quite obviously, I just didn't get it.
Some of the performers were engaging, most particularly Nathan Urban as Mitch, who I consistently heard and understood, and David Young as Stanley, who had an appropriate animal hunch and bull-headed demeanor, but these were exceptions. Yes, I loved a lot of it, but what I loved, unfortunately, had nothing to do with the marvelous play Tennessee Williams penned.
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