Tennesee Williams classic in extreme punk rock close-up: A Streetcar Named Desire – The House Show

Stella & Blanche
Stella (Mackenzie Gruer), Blanche (Lynne Rafter) & Mitch (Alex Strauss) – photo by AnnaDan Zuo
Stanley
Stanley (Luke Gallo) on the fire escape – photo by AnnaDan Zuo

Saw some outstanding indie theatre at its purest and best last night in Studio BLR’s punk rock adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire: A Streetcar Named Desire – The House Show.

The audience assembles in Dragon Alley, near the northwest corner of College and Dufferin. Soon, Eunice (Jasmine Bowen) appears bearing a stainless steel bowl, a sign that says $10 and another asking for spare change – the spare change she requests of us is the ticket price. Stella (Mackenzie Gruer) appears, and soon Stanley (Luke Gallo) and his pals Mitch (Alex Strauss) and Steve (Erik Kovalevskyy) stroll by, on their way to the bowling alley around the corner. Stella joins them. Soon, a well-dressed and lost-looking woman appears, toting a suitcase and desperately searching for information on her cellphone. This is Blanche (Lynne Rafter), just arrived in the Quarter to stay with Stella. Eunice offers assistance and beckons Blanche up the fire escape to the top floor apartment. The audience is instructed to follow – and watch our heads as we head up the steel steps. We assemble in the kitchen/living area of the apartment and Eunice leaves Blanche to go fetch Stella.

And thus begins a modern-day version of Streetcar, a punk rock tragedy that features a different live band at every performance. In this case, it’s the newly formed duo Lightning with Legs, acting as Stanley’s band/jam buddies. Given the intimate space – it’s a real apartment and can accommodate 20 patrons – this is Streetcar in extreme close-up. All the desire, brutality and personal tragedy are writ large and performed only a few feet – and, in some cases, inches – away.

The original script’s story of family dysfunction, personal scandal and financial ruin, steeped in brutality, alcoholism, desperation and desire, translates well into present day. It is easy to see how Blanche and Stella’s family home could fall prey to family circumstance and economic recession. The modern references to scandal, involving Blanche’s personal conduct and psychological damage, are nicely drawn with rumours of her questionable relationship with a student and moments where she finds herself haunted by the music that was playing when her first love/young husband died, a psychological ear worm that wreaks havoc on her already fragile psyche. Also notable is the fact that not much has changed regarding the double standard of the sexual dynamic between men and women: men are on the offensive, with women obliged to be on defence. Blanche breaks the rules with her aggressive flirting and scandalous past. And, even though such terms did not exist in the time of the original script, slut-shaming figures prominently in the climax of the play – and the sickening result of he said/she said skepticism and denial is that the victim is branded crazy and mistaken, or even worse lying.

The cast does an excellent job of bringing to life the colliding worlds of old-time rural chivalry and romance, and modern-day urban brutality with its unleashed primal urges. Rafter is heart-breaking as Blanche, vulnerably majestic and falling apart before our eyes. Gallo’s Stanley is a brooding caged animal, brutally sensitive and ready to pounce; and Gruer brings a lovely battered strength to Stella, a young woman caught between two forceful and passionate personalities, all the while navigating her own fears and desires. Strauss’s Mitch has a nice sense of internal conflict, unflinchingly loyal to his gravely ill mother and rowdy friends, and grappling with loneliness and longing to have a family of his own. Very strong supporting work from Bowen and Kovalevskyy as friends/downstairs neighbours Eunice and Steve, as well as Joe Bumbacco (Paper Boy), Peter Campbell (Doctor) and Anastasia LeSage (Nurse). And, if you’re lucky, the adorable house cat will also make an ad lib appearance, as it did toward the end of this performance.

A Streetcar Named Desire – The House Show continues for two more weeks – Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. – until October 6. Seating is limited and it was a full house last night, so best to get yourself to Dragon Alley early.

Upcoming music, theatre & spoken word awesomeness

It was some big fun, not to mention a great pleasure, as I worked the door at Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (LVCN) last night, with feature artists Andrea Thompson, Frenchie Fatale and Hugh Wilson. It was LVCN’s first night at its new home at The Central – and the place was packed, with an incredibly engaged audience.

There’s still all kinds of awesome goodness coming up in T.O. this month, my friends. Here is just a small sample of what’s happening on the small stage and indie scene:

David Hustler & the Trustworthy EP release – Wed, Sept 11 @ Horseshoe Tavern @ 8:30 p.m. – $5 cover

Songwriters Circle of Jerks – Thurs, Sept 12 @ 8:30 p.m. @ Free Times Café, featuring Hugh Wilson and Nick Verona from Big Name Actors (among others), Nelson Sobral from Melting Pot and I Hate Todd, and David Hustler of David Hustler & The Trustworthy, with guest Meghan Morrison – PWYC

Eclectic – September Group Exhibit – opening Thurs, Sept 12 from 6-8 p.m. and running till Sept 29 @ Fran Hill Gallery

Jeff Cottrill’s tour fundraiser show Keep Calm & Get Rid of Jeff – Sun, Sept 15 @ 7:00 p.m. @ Black Swan, with a whole line-up of music & spoken word guests – $10 cover

Studio BLR punk rock production of A Streetcar Named Desire – The House Show – Sept 19 – Oct 5 @ 8:00 p.m. – show starts in Dragon Alley at the northwest corner of College/Dufferin

Alumnae Theatre production of The Underpants – Sept 20 – Oct 5 on the Alumnae Theatre main stage

Anglewalk Theatre production of tick, tick… BOOM! – Sept 21 – Oct 6 @ Toronto Centre for the Arts Studio

The Beautiful & the Damned – Thurs, Sept 26 @ 7:00 p.m. @ The Central, hosted by Duncan Armstrong, and featuring Heather Babcock, Brock Hessel & Nelson Sobral

Matt Gerber CD release – Sat, Sept 28 @ Tranzac, doors @ 7:00 p.m. – $15 cover

Look out for Big Name Actors and I Hate Todd as the play various dates and venues around the city.