SummerFest: Comparing Streetcars


It occurred to me Tuesday watching the final dress rehearsal of SummerFest’s production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire that this is the first time in 14 years covering theater in Lexington I have seen the same show presented two times by the same director.

Joe Ferrell directed Actors Guild of Lexington’s production of Streetcar in 2003 at the Downtown Arts Center’s black box theater, and he is directing the production that is trying mightily to get going in the Arboretum – the first two attempts at an opening night, Wednesday and Thursday, have been scuttled due to rain and lightning.

Rehearsals are not performances and this is not a review, but looking at this production, it was striking how similar yet different this show was from 2003.

There certainly was that signature Joe Ferrell style — a reverence for the playwright’s words and eye on crisp storytelling. You always know with a Ferrell show that everyone onstage will know what they are saying and why, and interesting interpretations will come out of that.

Contrasting the productions speaks to the impact casting and venue have on a play.

Ferrell noted in an interview earlier this summer that as big a title as Streetcar is, it is something of a small, intimate show for the vast Arboretum stage. The essential drama plays out between four people — Blanche, Stella, Stanley and Mitch — and there are just a few other ancillary characters. The setting of a modest New Orleans apartment is also fairly low-key for SummerFest.

But Tuesday, lead actors Evan Bergman as Stanley and Bess Morgan as Blanche (photo, above) were crafting big performances that filled the space and maximized the drama. Nine years ago, Kevin Hardesty and Lisa Thomas were giving decidedly different interpretations of the same characters. Hardesty’s Stanley was more arrogant than primal, making Blanche’s characterizations of him seem to be part of her fantasy. Thomas’ portrayal was less demonstrative and she and Hardesty seemed to be engaged in more of a psychological struggle.

And that really worked for the black box, a a venue that seats a couple hundred at most and fewer, I believe, for the Streetcar production. That take may have been lost in the Arboretum, but that is where venue comes into play. And good actors know where they are playing and make adjustments accordingly — both Thomas and Hardesty have brilliantly led productions in the Arboretum, as have Bergman and Morgan in the Downtown Arts Center.

It really speaks to the elasticity of a script. It sets out the words and essentially the story and emotions, but it is when the director, actors and designers come together that the play really comes to life, and it is different every time, even when some of the same people are involved.

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