‘Streetcar’ actor Taylor exorcises ghost of Brando

There are enough things that go right in Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” that I wish I liked it more.

The first welcomed surprise is Gerrad Alex Taylor as Stanley. The man is described as common, a Neanderthal who brings home the meat and delivers sexual pleasure.

Marlon Brando’s ghost hovers over the role, thanks to his 1951 film performance, and every actor has to compete with that image. Taylor is black, and that solves part of the problem. But the actor also makes the role his in vocal rhythms and physical mannerisms. When he repeatedly yells “Stella!” — in a scene that has been parodied for 60 years — Taylor conjures up no memories of Brando. When he’s on his knees begging for his wife’s return, the actor is so in character that we are thinking about nothing but Stanley’s desperate, soft side.

This 1947 Tennessee Williams gem, about a disturbed, Southern woman who comes to live with her sister in a run-down New Orleans apartment, is rich in themes and relationships. Director Jeffrey Koep and cast have us believe that Blanche (Paris McCarthy) and Stella (Ann-Marie Pereth) are really sisters and that Stanley and Stella have a passion that no neurotic sister can diminish.

Best yet, there’s Jordan Bondurant as Mitch, a mama’s boy who courts the seemingly innocent Blanche and is then horrified when he learns of her past. Bondurant finds this eccentric character’s reality in a skillfully quiet, unaffected way.

But Pereth as Stella seems almost sadistically unconcerned about what happens to her sister. As Stanley, Taylor gives away his performance too early; he’s monotonous.

In the pivotal role of Blanche, McCarthy looks like a youthful, exuberant cheerleader. There’s no hint that she’s at the end of her rope. Sure, she’s eccentric and self-absorbed, but the concluding scene is incomprehensible considering her sanity.

Koep ends the piece with breathtaking tableau. And Devin Pierce Scheef’s set — a combination of realism and the suggestive — is stunning to look at.

But I couldn’t figure out why this bubbly, beautiful Blanche couldn’t just go to another town and start over. The script provides some definite answers, but they seem to have been ignored.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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