Thornton shines as damaged Dubois

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LAUGHTER was the last thing I expected from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, a play full of dark themes including domestic violence.

But Australia’s Sigrid Thornton is such a superb actor that her comic timing is perfect as faded southern belle Blanche Dubois, in this Black Swan production at the State Theatre.

Director Kate Cherry brings many layered nuances to the fore, none more so than the power play between desperately genteel Blanche and brutish brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski.

“[They] are like magnets, they compel and repulse and ultimately, they destroy one another’s future happiness,” she says.

The play shocked when it opened in New York in 1947 with its realism and psychological study of human nature.

Almost 70 years later, the Pulitzer Prize winner remains relevant with its poignant character study and sexual tension.

‘like magnets, they compel and repulse and ultimately, they destroy one another’s future happiness’

Blanche arrives unannounced to live with her sister Stella and husband Stanley in their cramped, dingy apartment in the poor quarter of sweaty, repressive New Orleans.

Seedy claustrophobia

Smith’s largely one-room set perfectly conveys seedy claustrophobia—only a sheer curtain shuts off the bedroom and every sound is audible to neighbours.

A solitary saxophonist (Ben Collins) on the dimly lit balcony, or in the shadows of the street, adds to the moodiness as a segue between scenes.

Thornton’s petite frame embodies the fragile Blanche, with her nervous, fluttering hand movements and incessant chatter, while Jo Morris is great as Stella, a woman torn between her passion for Stanley and love of her sister.

Blanche is shocked by the bestial Stanley, who knocks her sister around, and urges Stella to leave him.

But following a beating the night before a besotted Stella drawls: “There are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark—that sort of make everything else seem unimportant.”

Blanche is a mix of contradictions, both feisty and fearful, proud but in desperate straits.

A mature woman, she flirts coquettishly with men, constantly seeking approval and courting desire, while maintaining a facade of genteel refinement.

Stanley and Blanche each fights in their own way to dominate Stella but Blanche the dreamer is no match for the crude Stanley, who has no time for her pretensions. Their collision course destroys Blanche’s tenuous grip on reality.

Nathaniel Dean has a big job taking on a role the magnetic Marlon Brando made his own in the 1951 movie, but he amply holds his own, aided by his buff physique and distractingly tight t-shirts.

Luke Hewitt is convincing as Stanley’s mild-mannered friend Mitch, whom Blanche hopes to marry as a way out of her penniless state: the scene in which he confronts her about her many sexual liaisons is heartbreaking.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a must-see and, due to sell-out shows, has been extended to April 6 and possibly longer. For more info go to http://www.bsstc.com.au

by JENNY D’ANGER

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