Being Blanche: Marin Mazzie Jumps Onto Streetcar

Being Blanche: Marin Mazzie Jumps Onto Streetcar Musical theatre star Marin Mazzie sings a different tune in Massachusetts — as Tennessee Williams' frazzled diva Blanche DuBois.
A Streetcar Named Desire stars Marin Mazzie and Christopher Innvar.
A Streetcar Named Desire stars Marin Mazzie and Christopher Innvar. Photo by Kevin Sprague

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Marin Mazzie is known to most theatregoers as a musical star. Her three Tony nominations have come for musicals — for portraying Clara in Passion, Mother in Ragtime and Lilli Vanessi and Katharine in Kiss Me, Kate. Yes, she has exercised her acting chops in comedy and drama, particularly on television. But not in major leading roles.

So it might come as a surprise to some that she is starring as Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams' classic, Pulitzer Prize–winning drama A Streetcar Named Desire for the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA, in the Berkshire Hills.

A surprise to some — but not to Mazzie. "I think of myself as an actor first and a singer second," she says. "It takes good acting to be a good singer, to be a good actor in a musical. And besides, this is one of the best roles ever written, in one of the greatest American plays — and I'm just so excited at the prospect of playing the part."

Nor is it a surprise to Julianne Boyd, her director — who is also Barrington Stage's artistic director. "Every role Marin creates she makes her own," Boyd says. "She read a couple of scenes for me, and she hit the nail on the head. She really understands Blanche: that wonderful Southern belle flirtatiousness, that quality that keeps Blanche going, along with that quiet desperation." The production also stars Christopher Innvar as Stanley Kowalski, Blanche's brutal brother-in-law and nemesis, and Kim Stauffer as Stella, her sister. Many great actresses have played the fragile Blanche. Jessica Tandy was the original, on Broadway in 1947, opposite Marlon Brando as Stanley. Vivien Leigh, perhaps the quintessential Blanche, portrayed her in London and in the 1951 movie. Other Blanches include a veritable acting hall of fame: Uta Hagen, Tallulah Bankhead, Rosemary Harris, Claire Bloom, Glenn Close, Blythe Danner, Jessica Lange, Natasha Richardson.

Does Mazzie feel cowed by her predecessors? In short, no.

She saw the movie — and Danner in the 1988 Circle in the Square production — and she doesn’t expect those performances will influence her. "I enjoyed watching them, but I couldn't be more different from Vivien Leigh. I'm not going to approach the role in the same way she did — or the way anybody else did. As with any role, I have to approach it from my own point of view, look at it with fresh eyes."

She must, she says, "experience my own feelings about who Blanche is. I have to find Blanche in Marin — explore elements of her that are similar to me and elements that are different from me. There's such a wealth of character in her, from the social mores to the madness: how her husband's suicide begins her downward spiral, the loss of home, the loss of self, the loss of what the South represented at the time, the idea of women and their roles in society and how all that was changing, and how she can't change with it.

"That's why actresses are drawn to her — she forces you to go very deep and very dark. That’s always a great challenge. I'm looking forward to finding out things about myself that I didn't know."

There is another reason she is happy to have the role. She and her husband (the actor Jason Daniely) "bought a country house in the Berkshires, in New York State not too far from Pittsfield. So in addition to this being one of the great roles, I get to do it and I can live in my house."