‘Streetcar’ makes stop at Madison-Plains

By Dean Shipley

April 30, 2014

It is probably the most challenging drama the Madison-Plains drama troupe ever attempted, but it and the directors were determined to get on board with Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar Named Desire.” The cast and crew will present it Friday through Sunday at the high school.

Determination reared its head in March, when the buzz arose at the school about the play, which addresses a number of controversial issues, not the least of which include, domestic violence, mental illness and alcohol use.

The cast and crew organized itself to present the reasons why they wanted to perform the play, which won the Pulitzer prize in 1948. They argued successfully before the board of education the issues the play presented when introduced in 1947 remain societal issues challenging the people of the 21st century.

Directors/teachers Scott Spohler and Briana Richardson were excited to guide the cast and crew through the lengthy, emotionally tense drama. It is a test of the drama troupe’s mettle to perform a work other than a comedy.

“We’re excited about it,” said Scott Spohler, drama troupe director. “The kids have been working really hard and it’s really coming together.

“It is the first show they really are coming to understand the characters, because they’ve had to work so hard with them. I’m really very hopeful about how it comes off. It’s been a stretch for them but they’ve met every challenge in stride.”

Two of those stretching thespians are students Marissa Knisley and Austin Wilson. She portrays Blanche Dubois and he becomes Stanley Kowalski. Their dialog during the play becomes argumentative and emotionally wrought.

Because some scenes are charged with emotion and contain physical contact, Spohler said cast members met in small groups to explore and set boundaries for the physical encounters with one another during the play.

“They’ve found each other’s comfort level and found out how far they can go,” Spohler said.

Knisley went as far as reading additional material, including a book of Tennessee Williams’ letters, to gain insight into the character. She learned the women in Williams’ life, his mother and sister, had mental disorders.

“Blanche is based on his sister,” Knisley said.

Williams’ father also had issues including alcoholism. Knisley said Williams wrote some of his father’s issues into the character of Stanley.

“The play is complex,” Knisley said. “You question how much is real and how much is in Blanche’s head.”

Getting into Stanley Kowalski’s head was a challenge for Austin Wilson, a senior drama club member who has performed in eight productions. He was excited to portray Kowalski, whose rough-edged persona produced a challenge for him. Wilson is a mild-mannered young man, whose family has none of the “baggage” Williams’ family apparently carried. Wilson’s home life is pretty quiet.

“It gave us a new challenge, to take on a different persona,” Wilson said.

Part of that persona included shouting some of his lines as needed.

In anger.

Wilson was told to project his naturally deep voice and when a line had to be said in anger he was told to “think of something that makes you mad and let it.”

His most famous “yelled” line is “Stel-la!”

Wilson likes the idea of acting in this play as his Madison-Plains drama finale.

“It means a lot to me,” he said. “It’s my last one before I go to college.”

He plans to study engineering at The Ohio State University.

Because they argued strongly on the basis of the social issues the play explores, the cast has invited several agencies to distribute literature about their services. Organizations include A Friend’s House, for victims of domestic violence, the Ohio Domestic Violence Network and NAMI. Briana Richardson, co-director said after expenses have been met, proceeds from the play’s attendance will be donated to the three agencies.

Dean Shipley can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 17 or via Twitter @DeanAShipley.