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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘A Street Car Named Desire’ = an epic in Tisch Mills

Critic At Large

The Forst Inn Arts Collective

Thomas Moore, clockwise from upper left, Elizabeth Szyman, Carrie Todd Counihan, Zach Lulloff, Vicki Svacina, Ian Wisneski and Dan Sallinen are featured in The Forst Inn Arts Collective production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” (Company photos)

TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV) – At this point, “A Streetcar Named Desire” is famous for being famous. A new production shows why.

The play has the power to generate heat in an inspired cast at a small theater far from any metropolis.

In her cast biography, the woman in the leading role catches the eye: She is thankful for the opportunity “to become a servant to the character.” Whoa, that’s serious.

On stage, Elizabeth Szyman seriously goes about meticulously unraveling Blanche DuBois.

Director Michael Sheeks and the rest of the cast build an imposing structure around which that can happen with unnerving power.

Tennessee Williams’ script is stoked with hot points. The production of The Forst Inn Arts Collective thrives on an aura of tension.

Blanche has come to New Orleans to her sister’s apartment. Blanche carries an air of loftiness. Her luggage is disappointment. Quickly adding to that are sister Stella’s less-than-modest digs and Stella’s hormonal adoration of her coarse and brutish husband, Stanley Kowalski.

This is true heavyweight material. It more than punches. It slugs.

The thing about excellent live, in-person theater – it is wholly absorbing.

In this production, the setwork is also a character (dumpy but livable), and the costumes are characters (notably Blanche’s fading finery).

Program and set. (Warren Gerds)

The players in this production have been around local theater, so they know what for about characterizations and all. “A Streetcar Named Desire” is a step beyond, and they stride with skill with Michael Sheeks fueling their dedication.

Elizabeth Szyman has a collage of a personality to develop in Blanche – so many pieces, so many hints of something elusive, so many morsels of mystery… with sensuality floating through. Splendid.

It is interesting to watch Thomas Moore between scenes as he is coming upon another explosion for Stanley. Adrenalin pumps as he gets into character, and then his Stanley does something aggressive, forceful, self-righteous, testosterone-al and sometimes violent. The performance is dynamic. Side note: The play arrived just after World War II, in which Stanley served as a sergeant. Post-traumatic stress syndrome was not part of the vernacular in 1947, but that may explain some of Stanley’s behavior.

Carrie Todd Counihan dives into the deep well of Stella’s complexities. Stella is gentle, animalistic, acquiescent, kind, realistic and firmly stand-by-your-man despite his considerable abuses. Family counts a lot, too. The baggage is carried well in performance.

Another big-time part is that of Mitch, performed with depth by Ian Wisneski. Intensely shy, but not mortally so, Mitch takes to Blanche. The two sort of console one another’s vulnerabilities and temporarily find a ray of hope.

Support performances are vivid, too. The rough-buddy poker games with Stanley help create a shabby/beery aura.

This production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” wears the play’s fame well. Superb.

***

Creative: Playwright – Tennessee Williams; director – Michael Sheeks; stage manager – Shannon Paige; scenic design and properties – Nannette Macy; costume design – Claran LaViolette

Cast (in order of appearance):

Eunice Hubbell – Vicki Svacina

Stella Kowalski – Carrie Todd Counihan

Stanley Kowalski – Thomas Moore

Steve Hubbell – Dan Sallinen

Harold Mitchell (Mitch) – Ian Wisneski

Ensemble – Jacqueline Welsh

Blanche DuBois – Elizabeth Szyman

Ensemble – Dennis Schneider

Pablo Gonzales – Zach Lulloff

A Young Collector – Kevin Sievert

Running time: Three hours, 10 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. July 16-17, 22-24 and 2 p.m. July 25

Info: forstinn.org

***

Side story: Broadway actor Tom Flatley Reynolds, who called Green Bay his hometown, shared a story of his early years in New York City before performing in such notable plays in the 1950s as “Inherit the Wind.” He told of living in the same brownstone with Marlon Brando at the time when Brando was defining Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway. “He had his motorcycle out front, and I’d see him every day,” Tom Reynolds told me in 1976. “I remember one time I answered the payphone in the hall. It was a matinee day for Brando. The guy on the line asked, ‘Is Brando there?’ ‘No, he’s got a matinee.’ The guy said, ‘I know, I’m the stage manager. He isn’t here, and the curtain is about up!’ So I had to get Brando out. He was very relaxed. He went over about an hour late. He was very easy-going from the word go.”

***

THE VENUE: The historic Forst Inn is located at the corner of Kewaunee County roads B and BB. The building dates to 1868, with assorted lives over the years. For a notable period – 1990 into the 2000s – the place was popular for productions of Little Sandwich Theatre, which Manitowoc attorney Ron Kaminski (deceased 2018) nurtured with a caring hand as artistic director/performer/do-all for a wide array of productions. The present venture is of that spirit. The stage is wide and narrow. The space is intimate. Seating is at small tables on two levels in a slight arc in front of the slightly raised stage. To the audience’s rear is the stage director’s space, with light and sound controls. The space is essentially a black box in theater style in the front – with additions: two chandeliers above the audience, a street lamp the seating area and the ambiance of 1920s style elements to the rear in a service area.  A seating/serving area is in the middle of the building, along with a ticketing counter. The bar area out front includes the bar, table seating, more 1920s ambiance and a passage to an art gallery (rotating artists) that is now part of the offerings of The Forst Inn Arts Collective overseen by Michael Sheeks, who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus in Manitowoc.

NEXT: “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” by Steve Martin, in the pub, July 18, Aug. 8, 15; “Dixie Swim Club” by Jones Hope Wooten, Aug. 6-22.

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