Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Blanche Survives Katrina in a Streetcar Named Desire (Soho Playhouse)

By Kitty

Mark Sam Rosenthal as Blanche DuBois in Blanche Survives Katrina

BOTTOM LINE: relies on the kindness of strangers who are familiar with A Streetcar Named Desire

As I took my seat to see Blanche Survives Katrina in a Streetcar Named Desire, the man sitting next to me explained that he wished to see the show because he had heard that it was “a little off-the-wall." Off-the-wall, indeed.

Inspired by the classic Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche Survives Katrina imagines how Blanche DuBois might have coped with the devastation in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. This is achieved after a man discovers a magical valise containing an enchanted blonde wig. When he places the wig on his head, he is no longer a guy sifting through the debris left by the storm. Instead, he is Blanche herself, one of dramatic literature’s most prolific characters, attempting to rebuild her life following the devastation.

Although the premise may appear dark–neither Blanche DuBois nor Hurricane Katrina are necessarily known for their levityBlanche Survives Katrina can be considered a comedy. Writer and performer Mark Sam Rosenthal swans around the stage, punctuating each line with Vivian Leigh’s trademark eyebrow lifts (Leigh won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Blanche in the movie version in 1951). He also allows each word to seep out of his mouth with syrupy Southern sweetness, bestowing upon Blanche a naivete and an innocence that is not necessarily explored in the original A Streetcar Named Desire.

It is in her artlessness where Rosenthal finds the bulk of the humor. The cultural confusion Blanche encounters while lodging in the Superdome, for example, provides the initial gag which reoccurs throughout the play. Not only must Blanche adjust to life in a predominantly African American community, but she must also familiarize herself with life in the new millennium.

Even though the comical bits are more than satisfying (Blanche taking a hit from a crack pipe is one for the books), I found the most enjoyment in Blanche’s more reflective moments. Her monologues recounting the day the levees broke and washed away Stanley, Stella and their newborn child are exceptionally poignant. Blanche’s assertion that “the story is prettier than the truth” is also quite evocative and even more so when she adds that “once the truth is washed away, all that is left is poetry”.

Judging from the puzzled patron seated behind me who after the final curtain call asked her friend, “now explain to me who Blanche is again,” it's possible that only fans of the original A Streetcar Named Desire will truly be able to follow and appreciate this reincarnation. It is a love letter to Blanche DuBois and a reminder that New Orleans is only a Mardi Gras beads’ throw away from restored greatness.

(Blanche Survives Katrina in a Fema Trailer Named Desire is playing at the Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, through March 15th with performances Thrusdays and Fridays at 9pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 9pm and Sundays at 7pm. Tickets are $20-$30 and can be purchased at seatadvisor.com. For more info visit the show's website at blanchesurviveskatrina.com.)

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