Transforming the Classic ‘Streetcar’
Nicole Ari Parker has a triumph in A Streetcar Named Desire that our mainstream media and the cli-quish Tony Awards are ill-equipped to handle. Parker’s ravishing, statuesque presence and intelligent skill make the play what it always ought to have been: a genuine contest between America’s sexual and political hypocrisies; social sense versus personal sensuality. In her own take on Blanche DuBois, the ultimate test for an American actress (bravo, Faye Dunaway; get outta here, Cate Blanchett), Parker shows the requisite physical strength and beauty and emotional instability. She is true to Williams’ archetype—so true that she complements Vivien Leigh’s awesome performance in Kazan’s 1951 film, yet brings something fresh.
It is Parker’s freshness that makes this Streetcar noteworthy. Let no less an authority than Paul Mooney explain why. Mooney broke it down in a 2010 interview with PopMatters: “Tennessee Williams knew about the South, but he would clean it up and lie about it. He knew the women, he knew the racial thing, he knew everything. He knew the incest, the child abuse, all that shit. He had to hide it because those white folks would get angry. A Streetcar Named Desire: Trust me when I tell you that Marlon Brando’s character [Stanley Kowalski] was a Creole, he was a black man. You see that movie or read that book, you’ll see it in between the lines. All Southerners know. Northerners won’t pick up on it, but we knew right away what it was about.”
African-American Parker (best known as a light-skinned, light-eyed decoration in the TV series Soul Food) embodies the switch necessary for Mooney’s theory to work that producers could/would not find an actor to fulfill. So Parker makes Blanche bear the black American’s burden. She is every socially subjugated but personally brave black woman that the movie The Help turned into a clown. Parker finds the heroic, persevering woman inside Williams’ often over-pitied conceit—an even greater archetype than Bess in Porgy & Bess—because she captures what Williams so magnificently articulated about Blanche’s sexual/spiritual struggles. She’s a victim yet she is never weak. Recalling the legacy of slavery and racist miscegenation, Parker’s Blanche keeps going—despite the social and patriarchal cruelties embodied by alpha male Stanley.
To read the full review at CityArts click here.
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