Tuesday, April 23, 2024

New Theatre Rides an Exceptional ‘Streetcar’

New Theatre in Coral Gables is an unpredictable theater company – unpredictable in the quality of the material it selects as much as the quality of the productions it mounts. Four barely-tested newer works usually nestle beside two unimpeachable classics each season. Though the newer works the theater produces are often subpar, it’s managed to excel at most of its classics, looking at them with a fresh eye and an inspired intensity. Perhaps there’s a message here: that the task of recreating the epic and familiar brings out the best in this small playhouse, and that daunting masterpieces should be its primary focus.

“A Streetcar Named Desire,” running through June 19 (extended a week beyond its initial run, by popular demand) is New Theatre’s second exceptional production of a Tennessee Williams masterwork in a couple of years. Angie Radosh, who ran away with its production of a “The Glass Menagerie” two seasons ago, returns here as Blanche DuBois, the fading Southern belle and the play’s meatiest, most vulnerable role. It’s a pleasure, as always, to watch Radosh, as she is perfectly synchronized to the rhythms, cadences and pauses of Williams’ tortured matriarchs. Her mental collapse is a depressing joy to watch; all exposed nerves and anxiety, she’s a perfect stranger in a strange hovel.

As the volatile, animalistic Stanley Kowalski, Travis Reiff has received his share of criticism for downplaying the part, but I didn’t see anything wrong with it. He makes the character his own, refusing to settle for an imitation of his forbears. His painful cries for he beloved Stella and his sudden moments of domestic violence are sufficiently shattering, but the best complement I can offer Reiff is that I never once thought of Marlon Brando while watching him.

As Stella, Elise Girardin is a vision onstage – beautiful, fragile and convincing in her love for her abusive husband. And Clint Hooper, in the supporting role of Stanley’s old military buddy Mitch, is low-key but effective; I’ve never enjoyed Hooper more in a part.

This production is not without its minute mistakes. In the version I saw this past Sunday, the lights in both rooms of New Theatre’s spare set blacked out, prompting an uncomfortable pause. And Girardin looks so rail-thin in the early scenes that when Blanche suggests she’s “plump” and “filling out,” there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance there. But these are very minor issues in a stellar production of a difficult, three-hour classic, and it’s well worth the drive down south.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” is at New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables. Tickets are $35 to $40. Call 305/443-5909 or visit www.new-theatre.org.

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