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THEATER REVIEW

Catching a 'Streetcar'

Calabasas theater's inaugural show is whirlwind trip of power, passion.

October 08, 1998|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If North Hollywood is Los Angeles' version of off-off-Broadway, then Calabasas is the equivalent of Connecticut. But don't tell that to the founders of the Calabasas Actors' Space Theatre. In a 40-seat theater so far out there aren't even street lights, this group of actors has set up shop, reminding us in the process that artistic life abounds in the suburbs. Their inaugural production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" seems to be an auspicious beginning.

It helps, of course, that "Streetcar" is one of Tennessee Williams' finest plays, one that even 50 years after its 1948 setting rings with the truth of character: Blanche's manipulative frailty, Stanley's steamy brutality, Stella's blindness to others' failings.

As Blanche DuBois, Priscilla Barnes takes about two minutes to erase any lingering memories of her as the ditzy nurse on the sitcom "Three's Company."

Her Mississippi accent seems to slide more than lilt at first, but she finds a nice balance and easily takes command of the role. She draws humor out of lines, charming the audience just as she does young men. Jack Verell, likewise, is sexy and terrifying as Stanley, Blanche's handsome and driven--yet unrefined--brother-in-law.

The real find in this cast, however, is Tom Lawlor, who transforms the oft-forgotten role of Mitch, the friend of Stanley's whom Blanche seduces. Everything about his performance exudes naturalness: his flushed cheeks, his reddened eyes. In one of the play's most riveting scenes, he listens to Blanche tell the story of her ill-fated first marriage. His attentiveness, as much as Barnes' recollection, makes the scene riveting.

Director Charles Philip Moore makes the most of his set. Certainly it reflects the claustrophobia of a space too small for both Stanley and Blanche, a tiger and a butterfly in the same cage. Moore has no one hold back on stage, especially Verell, who takes a toll on the set and props: dishes fly, doors crack. Some scene changes are slowed because the floors have to be mopped or swept. Still, "Streetcar" is a trip that passes quickly--it hardly feels like a three-hour journey.

BE THERE

"A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Calabasas Actors' Space Theatre, 25000 W. Mureau Road, Calabasas. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 17. $10. (818) 878-5762. Running time: three hours.

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