A Streetcar Named Desire

Blanche may want magic and not realism, but in City Theatre's revival, it's realism that makes the magic

We've had this date with each other from the beginning: Stanley (Tim Brown) takes Blanche (Rachel McGinnis Meissner) to the end of the line.
"We've had this date with each other from the beginning": Stanley (Tim Brown) takes Blanche (Rachel McGinnis Meissner) to the end of the line. (Courtesy of City Theatre Company)

A Streetcar Named Desire

City Theatre, 3823-D Airport, 512/524-2870
Through Aug. 18
Running time: 2 hr., 50 min.

In a famous line from an even more famous play, a disintegrating Blanche DuBois spurts, "I don't want realism. I want magic!" In City Theatre Company's current revival of the Pulitzer Prize-garnering theatrical staple by Tennessee Williams, the magic is its realism.

As my friend and I arrived at City Theatre, I was surprised (and elated) to find a house packed to the gills. Granted, it doesn't take an army to fill this compact storefront space, but I didn't expect to encounter an overflowing crowd so early in the production's run. After all, at a running time approaching three hours (including a generous intermission), one settles in for Streetcar with a significant investment of time at stake. And though the drawback to a packed house at City Theatre is the shutdown of air conditioning during the performance so the actors may be heard, this investment nonetheless provides sizable dividends when all is said and done.

In City Theatre's revival, the payoff comes most notably in the realism – or, more accurately, in the realness – with which Williams' tale of a crumbling socialite in 1930s New Orleans is wrought by its actors. Most strikingly real of all, perhaps, is Rachel McGinnis Meissner in the especially tough role of Blanche. It's a part that can be overplayed easily, but Meissner refrains from pushing the envelope too far in City's intensely intimate venue. In fact, the friend with me felt Meissner doesn't take her portrayal far enough, specifically with the intricacies of her character's unraveling emotional state. But I feel differently. If Meissner can be said to err, it's on the side of understatement – a welcome interpretation of the character, I think, and one that succeeds in providing both realism and magic.

It's not only Meissner who portrays her character through this fresh, transparent ether. The whole cast contributes to the collective musk lingering in the air, especially Laura Artesi as a wonderfully crafted Stella. Director Jeff Hinkle summons a sultry New Orleans in a way that sidesteps the trappings of melodrama without losing any of the ambient, mythic quality that drives Streetcar. The set (presumably by production designer and City Theatre Artistic Director Andy Berkovsky, assisted here by Kevin George) may be the best of any City Theatre production I've seen, evoking the cramped, seedy quarters necessary for the claustrophobic sense of the story.

It may be a hot evening to handle (especially if your audience is as packed as mine), but no matter; this Streetcar is most certainly worth catching.

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A Streetcar Named Desire, Austin theatre, City Theatre Company, Jeff Hinkle, Andy Berkovsky, Rachel McGinnis Meissner, Tim Brown, Laura Artesi, Kevin George

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