“A Streetcar Named Desire” Explores Primal Places, at Ubuntu Theater, Oakland
Tennessee Williams Springs to Life with Whelan and Ramirez
by Tyler Jeffreys
Ubuntu Theater Project’s version of Tennessee Williams’ 1947 classic “A Streetcar Named Desire” brings out the primal, selfish, raw instincts that we are trained to repress.
When we first walk into a bare room in the Alice Collective in Oakland, the actors, dressed in black, are warming up. They lie on the floor or hang from the pillars–twisting and stretching. We sit in chairs in a circle, making the room, itself, into an intimate stage.
At one side, red curtains cover the walls and a movable staircase towers above. The rickety stairs lead to an upstairs apartment. There, Eunice (dynamic Champagne Hughes), an assertive, caring neighbor, perches up top, looking down at the chaotic New Orleans’ French Quarter. When hunky Stanley Kowalski enters (untamed Ogie Zulueta), Eunice shouts down to chastise him for lording it over his submissive wife, Stella (earnest Sarita Ocón).
With only a few suitcases in hand, Blanche (seductive Lisa Ramirez) surprises her sister Stella. Stella welcomes Blanche and tries to get Stanley to accept her sister, too. But Stanley smells a rat, creating a spreading tension.
Blanche DuBois lives in dreams, while Stanley Kowalski lives in the harsh, post-WWII Louisiana of factories, immigrants, and male competition. Their worlds are bound to collide.
Sadly, Blanche believes her own lies, blurring facts with delusions. As Blanche, Ramirez brings beautiful conviction to the role, performing each speech with resolve and passion. Her arms flow like leaves in the wind, as she dreamily waltzes across the stage. Ramirez embodies Blanche’s desire to be doted on, as she steeps herself in booze and hot baths, playing the Southern Belle.
Though Stanley’s brutish demeanor makes Blanche squirm, his adoration of Stella is undeniable. During the iconic moment when his wife rejects Stanley for hitting her, he yells “STELLLAAAAA!” Zuleuta as Stanley invites us into the vulnerable side of a vulgar man as his voice cracks like a child’s. He pleads for Stella to forgive him. Zuleuta’s stellar performance magnifies Stanley’s flaws and his force.
Stanley’s unpredictability keeps us guessing about how he will react to Blanche’s shenanigans. Will he be tender? Or will he roar and unleash the beast? He keeps us on the edge of our seats.
Stella’s love for Stanley baffles Blanche. Stanley wants money and respect among his poker playing buddies in the French Quarter. Stella shows that limiting our desires can control anxiety, especially in America where the pressure to succeed is so intense, and stoked by every ad and commercial that assaults us.
“Streetcar” shows what greed and selfishness lead to in America. Director Emilie Whalen and Ubuntu prove with passion that we cannot afford to be competing all the time, that basic desires demand a more fulfilling ride.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams, directed by Emilie Whelan, at Ubuntu Theater Project, Oakland, California, through Sunday, February 25, 2018. Info: ubuntutheaterproject.com
Cast: Lisa Ramirez, Sarita Ocón, Ogie Zulueta, Dominick Palamenti, Champagne Hughes, Erik Jon Gibson, Abdulrahim Harara, and Regina Morones.