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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Chase

Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf

Review by ANTHONY CHASE


blanche and stanley confront each other
Blanche and Stanley (Anna Krempholt and Jacob Albarella) meet again in "Death of a Streecar Named Virgina Woolf" at Alleyway Theatre Photo: Sarah Potter/Alleyway Theatre

Thornton Wilder’s Our Town,

 

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

 

Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire

 

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

 

Each has inspired countless impressionable young people into lifelong theatrical obsession.  Tim Sniffen’s play, Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf answers that unasked theatrical question, “What would happen if the main characters from all these plays got together?”

 

The premise that Blanche DuBois, Stanley Kowalski, George, Martha, and the tormented Willy Loman inexplicably might find themselves summoned to a New Orleans hotel run by the ever-brutish Stanley is ripe with explosive comic potential. Sniffen's preposterous and wildly ambitious concept alone would make this play, now at the Alleway Theatre, a must-see for theater geeks. Whether you think this is a transcendent comic work of meta-theatrical genius, or a sophomoric indulgence will depend on whether you want realism in this life or magic! Yes, yes, magic!

 

To me, this show is a divine guilty pleasure, directed by Kevin Leary and buoyed aloft by the deliciousness of a cast that should all be hauled in on charges of wanton theatrical excess and unmitigated buffoonery. However you slice it, you can't accuse Sniffen of playing it safe, as he unabashedly swings for the theatrical fences, committing outrageous acts of dramatic cooptation and distortion worthy of Charles Ludlum. 

 

A man narrating a story in front of a plantation house set on a stage
"Our Town" in Louisiana -- Nick Lama as The Stage Manager in "Death of a Salesman Named Desire" at Alleyway. Photo: Sarah Potter/Alleyway Theatre

The element that propels this mash-up of iconic dramas into the world of comedy is Sniffen’s hilarious lack of empathy for anyone. The Stage Manager, played with cheerfully cynical snideness by Nick Lama sets the tone. He doesn’t want to be there.  He is conscious of every theatrical cliché.  This is going to be trashy, but away we go!

 

Suicidal Willy, played with unrelenting earnestness by David C. Mitchell, is presented as a buffoon. He inspires about as much sympathy as The Born Loser from the funny papers.  Blanche is played with doubly unrelenting earnestness by Anna Krempholtz, and frequently gets lost in hypnotic vocalizations about the Louisiana heat, or into unrestrained sexual machinations. Jacob Albarella gives an over-the-top portrayal of Stanley, the likes of which has never been seen outside of a drunken cast party.  As George and Martha, Peter Horn and Lindsay Brandon Hunter betray not a glimmer of shame as they lean fully into the excesses of their excessive characters with irresistibly comical meanness. Horn is ever the model of prim propriety, even in the face of total perversity. Hunter’s world-weary Martha had me laughing with every sardonic and contemptuous toss of her brilliantly bewigged head.

 

A man in a hat sits in a chair and is confronted by ghosts
"Death of a Salesman" meets "Our Town" as Willy Loman (David C. Mitchell) finds himself in a chair cemetery. Photo: Sarah Potter/Alleyway Theatre

The script manages to mine iconic images from the famed scripts. Yes, we get the chair graveyard from Our Town; certainly, Stanley will call for Stella; and it is extraordinary how booze resonates in 20th century American drama.  The overlap of the plays is also delightful; watch Hunter’s confused reaction as Blanche puts the moves on her.  See Willy Loman’s disappointment at Our Town’s version of the afterlife.


Martha and George (Lindsay Brandon Hunter and Peter Horn) in Elysian Fields as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" meets "Streetcar Named Desire" Photo: Sarah Potter/Alleyway Theatre
Martha and George (Lindsay Brandon Hunter and Peter Horn) in Elysian Fields as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" meets "Streetcar Named Desire" Photo: Sarah Potter/Alleyway Theatre

The handsome set, a hybrid of Streetcar and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is by Collin Ranney, as are the perfect costumes.  (That fabulous, embroidered number on Blanche was, I’m told, purchased online!) In this production, even Emma Schimminger’s lighting design is funny, with its stark contrasts and abrupt changes.

 

To mirror the language of the play, Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf whips a potent blender filled with anguish, delusion, and desperation into a fruity Molotov cocktail of comic frivolity. It’s equal part reverence and irreverence for some of the greatest American dramas of the twentieth century. 

 

No, this is not a brilliant play; neither does it aspire to be one. There will be no startling insights or illuminating reappraisals of time-honored truths.  Nonetheless, this is high comic art. The major insight is that we should, perhaps, laugh at ourselves a bit more. Don’t deprive yourself of this wickedly subversive bit of theatrical fun.


 

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