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February 6, 2014

MLT tackles ‘a tough show’

Pulitzer-winning ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ starts its run tonight

Jeremy Sheldon’s veins pop out on his arms as he pulls away from his drinking buddies after a card game. He screams and cries, pushing things around — including his wife.

For a moment, you forget this is live theater and Sheldon is an actor portraying Stanley Kowalski in Muskogee Little Theatre’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

The show opens at 8 p.m. today and continues at 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14 and 15 at Muskogee Little Theatre. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students. They are available at Soundworld or at the door.

This Tennessee Williams play opened on Broadway on Dec. 3, 1947, and received the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1948. Marlon Brando portrayed Stanley on Broadway and in the 1951 film version.

Lisa C. Wilson, a professor of theater at the University of Tulsa, is directing MLT’s production. It’s her first time to guest direct for MLT and first time to direct this play.

“It’s a tough show to do,” Wilson said.

It’s important that characters maintain a level of balance, showing that neither Stanley or Blanche DuBois, portrayed by Tawny Easterling, is right or wrong, Wilson said. The show is also long, about two and 1/2 hours.

The setting is the two- room apartment occupied by the Kowalskis — Stanley and his wife, Stella, portrayed by Randi Williams. The apartment is in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The action takes place in May, August and September of 1947.

“The set is amazing,” Wilson said. “The set is a character in the play. There’s nowhere to escape to. These people are on top of each other.”

Blanche, a Southern belle who enjoys alcohol, visits her pregnant sister, Stella, and becomes attracted to Stanley’s friend Harold “Mitch” Mitchell, portrayed by Ray Jenkins.

“The desperate journey of these characters is one every person can identify with,” Wilson says in her director’s notes. “We may never acknowledge or speak of it because it is too frightening. We each seek a safe haven, a home where we are welcome and accepted for who we are.”

Sheldon, who has done theater around Tulsa, is on the MLT stage for the first time. He tried out for the role of Mitch but was cast as Stanley.

“I never thought I could do this role,” he said. “I don’t think I look like Stanley Kowalski. It’s more of a mindset than anything. There are different aspects to this character. It’s been interesting to break out of that role.”

Jenkins is doing his fourth MLT show in the past year. The first one was “A Few Good Men.” That was the first time he had been on stage since fourth grade, he said. This is his biggest role.

Easterling, a MLT veteran, said Blanche has her quirks.

“She’s wonderful,” Easterling said. “Blanche is a part as an actress you don’t say no to.”

There are many layers to Blanche’s seductive character.

Easterling and the others are doing a great job, said veteran actor Dice Dawson, who portrays Pablo Gonzales, another of Stanley’s friends.

“Oh my gosh, we’ve got a good cast,” said Dawson, who is on the MLT stage for the first time since 2001. “Everybody’s good.”

Tommy Cummings, who portrays the landlord, Steve Hubbell, agreed.

“There are a lot of talented people in the show,” Cummings said. “We are like a family. It’s a strong, emotional play that keeps you glued.”

Coni Wetz, the executive director of MLT, describes the production as a “steamy, sexy show.”

Wilson said it also has humor and darkness.

“Live theater is special,” she said. “You are in the same room with it. People have witnesses as we watch them pursue their agendas.”

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