A full week has gone by since I saw the premiere of Emily Mann's new production of A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, and I can't get it out of my mind. This haunting, bravura revisiting of the Tennessee Williams classic has all the right things going for it -- but is being noticed for the wrong reasons. There's more to praise here than Blair Underwood's shirts-off performance as Stanley or the use of an interracial cast and originally composed jazz backdrop to evoke New Orleans' Creole culture. What makes this production remarkable is the astounding reimagining of Blanche du Bois given to us by Nicole Ari Parker.
Consider the typical Blanches of the past -- ditzy, aging beauty-gone-bad screwballs who fall apart from their first lines. Thankfully, Parker's Blanche is a woman apart -- a formidably intelligent, witty, scorned beauty who is more than a match for the inarticulate Stanley or his me-Jane wife Stella. Parker's line readings bring out so much richness and humor in Williams' text that it's like seeing the play for the first time; you hang on to every word.
With this production Blanche takes her rightful place in the Pantheon of delusional romantics in the American canon -- Ahab, Tom Sawyer, Jay Gatsby, and Holden Caulfield. We can be grateful to both Nicole Ari Parker and Emily Mann for rescuing her and putting her tiara firmly back in place.