This Streetcar

With all the gravel and ice on the sidewalks due to the weekend storm, I’ve been sliding around Princeton as if I were Michael Jackson. Passers-by heard a rendition of “Billy Jean” not meant for human ears.

This Saturday Dean and I saw Kean University’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire. It was reasonably well done, but also was very faithful to the text. If you’ve seen the Kazan film (which I haven’t, completely) or even just read Tennessee Williams’s detailed script, Kean’s production added very little. There’s nothing wrong with theatre performed as a rote ritual; in many ways, all theatre is ritual. But a carefully mimeographed production already has its bullseye painted: the original production. Any differences become detractions, and the production can only fail on the other work’s terms. That’s how I felt during this Streetcar.

On these ritualized terms, even the interesting deviations become failures. For example, the play’s Stanley was obviously aiming for Brando, but hitting Bruce Willis. He nailed Willis, though, and that gave the infamous “Stella!” scene (with its slamming doors) a distinct Moonlighting flavor. And Mitch (who, as played by Karl Malden, is the inspiration for Karl Meltzer in I Am The Devil.) directly lifted some of Malden’s mannerisms, but came off not as an awkward love-stricken lug but instead as a chronic masturbator. In scenes that were otherwise the same, I reacted to Malden’s Mitch with “Ha, what a tool!” With Kean’s Mitch it was “Oh my gosh! Look where he’s holding that bottle!” On recollection I think Malden held a beer bottle in his crotch, too, but I didn’t notice it like this.

Kean University probably wasn’t trying to have the audience leave with The Return of Bruno album stuck in their heads, but they gave me at least that. Most of Kean’s Streetcar details have lost a fight against Kazan’s film to take up space in my memory. Ritual can renew or affirm a meaning we associate with a play, but ritual alone doesn’t satisfy.

I’ve been writing a lot of music stuff lately. I already have a Bruce Springsteen parody for the Boring Science Plays, and I’m adding to that some Billy Joel. Now I’ve been fiddling with another faux-Springsteen song along with some AC/DC. Soon I’ll be a regular Diane Warren.

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