PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: A Streetcar Named Desire: Dial M for Magnolias and Madness

By Harry Haun
27 Apr 2005

"I thought this production was excellent," said Wallach, "but, when they make that announcement to turn off your sound effects and unwrap your candy now, I wished they'd also say `Don't stand up at the end because other people want to see the actors on stage.'" His wife nodded decisively. "It has become automatic. They start standing before the curtain is down. Sometimes, when you see a play and you're so moved by it, your knees are wobbly and you can't stand up. It should not happen immediately. It should not."

Despite the lateness of the hour and oblivious to their years, the Wallachs made their way to the celebrity epicenter and waited for Richardson to show, which she finally did—spectacularly in a stunning Dolce Gabbana leopard print. There were a flock of friends and fans to acknowledge, and she breezed graciously through the obligatory glad-handing, stealing a smoke whenever she could. The most intimate moment was the familial well-I-made-it-look she threw to her auntie, Lynn Redgrave, who was clucking contentedly over her niece's triumph. "She's so extraordinary," Auntie allowed without apology. "I saw a preview a couple of weeks ago, and she's even more wonderful now." Lynn was the evening's official Redgrave welcome-wagon. Her sister and Natasha's mum, Vanessa Redgrave, was upholding the family business at the RSC, playing Hecuba, which she will bring to the Brooklyn Academy of Music on June 16.

"There'll be a moment where we'll all be on stage in the area," noted Lynn, who started earlier in the day rehearsing The Constant Wife, the W. Somerset Maugham comedy which the Roundabout will revive at the American Airlines Theatre on the very same June 16. "It's a great role," said Lynn, who, game girl, is the mother of the title character. "She's very funny and sorta retro." The title role belongs to another flame-haired Generation 2 star, Kate Burton, who, not having blood kin in the cast, called it a day after the play.

Jackson went over to congratulate Reilly and told him she thought Streetcar was Williams' best work. (The late critic Walter Kerr carried that opinion one loop more and called Streetcar the best American play, period.) "It is, it is," Reilly told Jackson. "It's like running in front of a train. The power of the play—you have to be up to it. You have to rise to the challenge." She smiled at that. "Well, you did, you did," she replied. Why would any actor in his right mind climb the mountain of iconic memories that Marlon Brando left in the role? "They asked me," Reilly responded simply. "It took me almost a year to decide whether I was going to go for it or not. I'm glad that I finally did because, you know, they say, `No guts, no gain.' There's nothing worth doing that's easy to do. That's been the pattern of my whole career—taking things on that seem slightly beyond my ability, beyond what I thought I could do. This is certainly one of those."

For Reilly, to get to Stanley Kowalski meant—gumption aside—trading up from Harold Mitchell. He was "Mitch" in his previous brush with Streetcar, at Steppenwolf in Chicago. Chris Bauer makes his Broadway debut in this production playing the part, a gullible drone easily duped by Blanche's calculated charms. "It feels amazing, exactly like I hoped it would," he said. "I feel so lucky to make my Broadway debut in such a great play. The other actors in the play, the director—I'm pinching myself all the time."

Nor is this the first time Amy Ryan has caught Streetcar. She was Stella to Patricia Clarkson's Blanche and Adam Rothenberg's Stanley last year for the Kennedy Center Salute to Tennessee Williams. "I feel like my other sister came to town, and I got remarried," she said of the contrast. "That's what it feels like. I had to unlearn almost everything—I'm sorry, that's not the right answer." She paused, thought and tried again. "I just started over. The stuff I tried to recreate didn't quite work because they're such different people around me. This time I learned to play the love at all times, get rid of my frustration toward Blanche, just play the love. In Washington, I was doing other things." She wore a black, strappy, Calvin Klein gown, upstaged by a gardenia in her hair a la Julie Wilson.

Roberta Maxwell, present just as an audience member, remembered doing scenes from Streetcar once, opposite Carrie Nye's Blanche, up at Williamstown—for the author. "Tennessee loved it. He said, `Ah always said Blanche was the funniest character I ever wrote.'" But there were a lot of moist eyes-of-the-beholder who would beg to differ. A kind-faced, gray-haired presence named John Carver—who more than held his own with Rosemary Harris, Elaine Stritch and George Grizzard in the last Broadway go-around of A Delicate Balance—is particularly well cast in this production in a bite-sized bit as the recipient of one of the most heart-breaking lines in theatre history, "Whoever You Are" (as in, "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers").

Weighty closing lines could become a specialty with Streetcar's director, Edward Hall, whose only other Manhattan offering was the sprawling historical epic, Rose Rage, which ended with the first line of Richard III: "Now is the winter of our discontent..." "I think every play ends with a new beginning," opted the 38-year-old son of Sir Peter Hall. "Plays don't usually end. They come to the beginning of something else. "The first play I ever directed was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and I had no idea what it was about, but I knew it was brilliant. The same applies to Streetcar, really. I didn't know what it was about until I started rehearsing it. I think, with great pieces of writing, that's the case—and that's what attracts me to them. If I know how the day is going to turn out when I get out of bed in the morning, then I usually get bored very quickly, but, if I'm not sure whether I'm going to make it, then I'm interested. And this play has got to be one of the most challenging pieces of work I've ever undertaken."