The moving target of whiteness

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Maybe it was pure coincidence.

Or maybe it was the dramaturgy of the universe ...but on my drive to Pasadena to see "A Streetcar Named Desire" a particular phrase from a KCRW interview struck me.

I was listening to KCRW’s weekly political show “Left, Right and Center,” and I heard this phrase:

"The moving target of whiteness."

Yale law professor Amy Chua was talking about tribalism in today's political landscape but, for me, it might as well have been the prologue program note to Stanley Kowalski's tirade against being called a "Pollock."

There it was. Stanley fighting back. Protesting that he was no animal, not common. He was as American as anyone else.

But in this "Streetcar", this Stanley Kowalski isn't what you're probably picturing in your mind. Desean Kevin Terry, the actor who plays him in this production at Boston Court Theatre is black.

One of the challenges as a theatre maker when you take a classic play off the shelf and dust it off for production, is how do you understand both how the play works today and also how it worked when it was written? Part of that process is archeological - what did it mean to be Polish in America in 1947? But that answer doesn't get you very far because while you might know what that means it doesn't mean that's the way your audience will understand it viscerally. Yes, you could do a sort of 'original practices' natural history museum reconstruction of the original.

Or you could deconstruct it and rip the text open to reveal and create a new play from these old bones. Both of these approaches have their place.

The toughest route is a third route: to try and re-imagine the dynamics of the original and bring them to life for an audience today.

This is largely how "A Streetcar Named Desire" plays at Boston Court.

Stanley's black. Blanche, of course given her name, is white. But her sister Stella is black, too. The guys at the card game look more like the diverse demographics of America than your typical white American theater cast.

But this production isn't just about race - at least no more than Tennessee Williams’ Stanley was just Polish. If whiteness is a moving target, as Chua suggested, this is where the arrow strikes now.

What this production is about is bringing all that and the complicated, disturbing, sexual energy buried in this script to life. The cast, in addition to being brilliantly diverse, is also wonderfully attentive to all the nuances in Williams' script. They make sense of these characters and resist cliches - and that's no small task.

Blanche and Stanley have all the fireworks you'd expect but the world that director Michael Michetti is building is denser than that. It's Stella and Mitch and even the boy collecting money for the paper that make you take notice.

You'll rediscover how disturbing this play really is. In the best ways, it will make you uncomfortable.

Now, the entire production doesn't all work. There's a framing device of an onstage DJ/sound designer that while clever never really pays off. It's the production trying a bit too hard. But that's a quibble.

This is a "Streetcar" you don't want to miss.

"A Streetcar Named Desire" plays at Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena through March 25th.