Every year the TAPS acting studio stages a show under professional direction featuring undergraduate actors and production assistants. This September, while most University of Chicago undergraduates were enjoying their last month of summer, a group of students were already furiously rehearsing Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. The production took place in Theater West, the black-box theater at the Logan Center, over the past two weekends.
A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the most well regarded American plays of the 20th century, and it was clear that the great majority of the audience knew the plotline very well. As such, the actors were under a lot of pressure to perform well—thankfully, they did not disappoint. Nailing down the character of Blanche, the fragile older sister with a tragic romantic fate, was definitely not a simple task. However, Sophie Kennedy, a fourth-year in the College, did a very convincing job. It was clearly no mean feat to maintain the same energy level for all two hours and 15 minutes, but Kennedy managed with seemingly no issues at all. The brutish and manly character of Stanley, performed by third-year Cameron Vanderwerf (no Marlon Brando, but a talent, to be sure) was also done very convincingly, especially during the play’s most iconic moments. The scene where Stanley tries to make it up to Stella after drunkenly losing control holds high expectations in any Streetcar Named Desire performance. True to form, Vanderwerf’s shouts for “Stella!” were very well done, even Brando-esque at times.
Upon entering the theater, the audience’s attention was automatically caught by the two-story set, which took up a large portion of Logan’s black-box theater. The bottom floor stayed true to the set design outlined by Williams: one room, with a kitchen, dining table, and two beds separated only by a very flimsy curtain. The bathroom, which played an essential part in the play, was partitioned from the rest of the set by a thin but stationary white curtain which allowed the audience to see inside Blanche’s numerous baths. The Edison lights hanging from the ceiling were a particularly striking piece of the set; the open bulbs with visible filaments gave the play a subtle and unexpectedly modern twist.
The second floor of the set, which represented the home of Eunice and Steve, the constantly fighting neighbors, served as a humorous break to the dramatic plotline. Whenever their fights broke out, the audience would look up and hear something along the lines of, “I only sleep with them because I love you!” thereby loosening some of the tension rising from the floor below. However, the set design of the second floor also served to enhance a more serious musical interlude sung by Eunice, who was played by the very gifted Alexandra Mathews. As Eunice approached the looping staircase, where she performed most of the song, the audience followed her shadow, which moved between the windows of the second floor of the set. This use of the lighting and set was particularly striking, even mesmerizing; the audience could not help but follow her slow steps, and they were consumed by the foreboding feeling of trouble about to come.
TAPS’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire was, without a doubt, very well done. Although the play is by far not a funny one, the interactions between the characters sparked genuine laughs. Theatrical elements such as set design and acting came together in a thoroughly enjoyable theater-going experience.