'One of the great American plays'

Jim Edmondson says student actors tend to know of Tennessee Williams' landmark play "A Streetcar Named Desire" mainly through the movie.

"I don't think they had any idea the complexity of the play," he says. "We've talked a bit about Williams and the plays that came out at the time."

The early post-war years of the late 1940s and early '50s are sometimes considered halcyon days for Broadway theater. And Edmondson is a fan of Williams' work. So when he was asked to direct a revival of "Streetcar," he didn't hesitate.

Which is why the theatre arts program at Southern Oregon University will present "A Streetcar Named Desire," directed by Edmondson, at the Center Stage Theatre on the SOU campus this month.

The play is the story of Blanche du Bois, an iconic symbol of self-delusion who intrudes into the lives of her sister, Stella, and brother-in-law, the brutish Stanley Kowalski, at a pivotal time in New Orleans. The Kowalskis are expecting a baby, and Blanche lives with dark secrets about her past.

"This is one of the great American plays," Edmondson says. "Williams' voice is unique among playwrights. I've directed 'The Glass Menagerie' and have always wanted to direct more of Tennessee Williams' work."

Blanche is a fading Southern belle whose pretensions conceal her alcoholism and delusions not only from others but herself. To reach Stanley and Stella's home on Elysian Fields Avenue she must take a streetcar route named "Desire." At Stella's, her Southern gentility soon clashes with Stanley's urban-worker values.

Blanche claims her supervisor gave her time off from her job as an English teacher because of "nerves," but the truth is she was fired for having an affair with a 17-year-old student.

Danielle Chaves plays Blanche, Zach Myers plays Stanley, Chelsea Acker plays Stella, and Heath Koerschgen plays Mitch.

Edmondson says to be directing "Streetcar" is to be conscious of the passing of time and a changing world.

"They're appalled when Stella doesn't leave Stanley when he hits her," he says of the student actors. "But she really had no alternatives."

Williams' 1947 play, directed by Elia Kazan, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The 1951 film version, also directed by Kazan, starred Marlon Brando (reprising his stage role) and Vivien Leigh and introduced Brando to the movie-going public. There were film remakes in 1984 and 1995. The play also was made into both a ballet and an opera in the '90s. It was also the subject of an episode of television's "The Simpsons" called "A Streetcar Named Marge."

Edmondson, who recently directed "The Diary of Anne Frank" at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, says he doesn't think "anything is worth doing unless it is a challenge."

"They play is also about the genteel Old South changing into the new industrial South after the war," he says. "Blanch is out of place there, although she's plenty strong."

He says Blanche contains much more of Williams' own complexity than the highly physical Stanley.

The hardest part of the play for student actors, he says, is "the long arcs of energy" Williams writes for actors

In 35 seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Edmondson has directed 33 plays, including this year's production of Lisa Kron's metatheatrical "Well" in OSF's New Theatre. He has worked for the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, the American Conservtory Theatre in San Francisco and the San Jose Repertory Theatre, among others. He directed "Angels in America, Part One," "Of Mice and Men" and "The Laramie Project" for the SOU Theatre program.

The play's assistant director is Aislyn Marshall. Scenic design is by Sean O'Skea, costumes by Sereena Ojakian, lighting by Maya Fein and sound by Aaron Postma. Kimberlee Freimoeller is the stage manager.

Also at SOU, Alan Ayckbourne's "Taking Steps" will run through Nov. 14 at SOU's Center Square Theatre.

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