A Stunning ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ at the Vex

Kevin Cox and Shelby Langhoff in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, now playing at the Sheldon Vexler Theatre (photo: Allison Cornwell).

A Streetcar Named Desire, certainly Tennessee Williams’ most famous theatrical piece, also catapulted the unknown 24-year-old devoted Method actor Marlon Brando to the attention of Broadway audiences — and soon the world — more than 60 years ago.

His famous primal scream, “Stellllaaaa!!!!”, is as iconic as Humphrey Bogart’s memorable “You played it for her, you can play it for me,” in Casablanca, and indeed, another famous line from Streetcar, delivered by Blanche DuBois: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

The new San Antonio production, currently playing at the Sheldon Vexler Theatre, is an exciting recreation of the way the Barrymore Theatre must have felt when the piece originally transfixed theatergoers back in 1947. That’s because it looks and feels so damn authentic.

Dylan Brainard directs the show with an assured hand, and the cast is more than up to the task.

Matthew Halteman is compassionate as Harold “Mitch” Mitchell, the inveterate bachelor who finally thinks he’s found a woman for him in the flighty Blanche DuBois.

Shelby Langhoff also impresses as Stella, a woman so addicted to her loutish husband’s affection that she throws away everything else in her life — including her family. The rest of the cast, including Stanley’s neighborhood poker pals, and the denizens of the street, are also quite effective.

But Streetcar has two principal characters, as everyone knows, and this version measures up just fine. Kevin Cox is excellent as the brutish yet conniving Stan, and he is well-matched by Brandi Hollsten as the equally cunning Blanche, whose exterior bravado is a mask for the inevitable mental collapse to come.

The show looks amazing. Scenic designer Ken Frazier’s multidimensional set perfectly evokes the French Quarter antebellum environment. The shabby, two-story boarding house in which the protagonists dwell has implied, invisible exterior walls, which enhances the feeling that the audience is spying on the intimate moments happening to the people that dwell within.

As the principals perform their scenes inside the set, other cast members occasionally stroll along the sidewalk on the perimeter — some of them singing, and others walking by silently — which adds a wonderfully immersive ambience to the show. A saxophonist even appears now and again to provide some aching blue notes.

Another high point is Frazier’s lighting design, which illuminates the set in different sections as required by the drama. Andrew Roland’s sound design is also wonderfully evocative, combining natural effects with city noises and faraway music being played in other places.

Yvette Oakes-Crabtree’s costuming is spot-on, helping immeasurably to complete the production’s overall milieu. Although the play is set in postwar 1947, the French Quarter was — and still is — a place out of time.

A Streetcar Named Desire plays Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the Sheldon Vexler Theatre, 12500 NW Military Highway, through Sept. 16. Tickets can be obtained online or by calling (210) 302-6835.

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