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FRANKLIN, NJ—A major issue when staging an iconic drama, such as the one that takes place at 632 Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans’ Faubourg Marigny, is the ghosts of every past performance, be they film or live can hijack the stage.
Director Judi Parish and a fine cast of actors exorcised those ghosts and kept them out of Villagers for opening night. Even the well-known “Stella” shout was exclusive to this performance.
One of hardest roles to cast in non-equity theater is Stanley Kowalski. Adding to that difficulty, any actor who does it, has to contend with following one of the most celebrated performances by one of the nation’s most noted actors. In addition, everyone in the audience is mentally making a Stanley comparison the second the house lights go up.
Brian Remo’s strong rendition of Stanley belonged to him. Instead of a cliché licentious and lumbering oaf, Mister Remo’s Stanley was an intelligent stalking predator, with moves calculated to affirm his territory, subdue Blanche, then bring her to her end.
When Ariana Fort first entered the stage, this reviewer was skeptical, but that skepticism was done away with as Ms. Fort, contending with long blocks Mr. Williams’s florid dialogue, did a wonderful job of taking Blanche from a passive-aggressive, condescending snob to a frightened, fading creature who, trapped by circumstance, is unable to avoid her looming destruction at the hands of her brother in-law.
Caught between her troubled sister and explosive husband is Stella, played by Morgan Petronis. Stella is a problematic role. Contending with being opposite not one large theatrical persona but two, if not done correctly the character of Stella can become invisible. Ms. Petronis, through a fine performance, didn’t allow that and Stella’s impact and presence never left the stage.
Peter Bisgaier delivered a solid performance as the easily manipulated momma’s boy Mitch. On the surface Mr. Bisgaier portrays Mitch as the strong and silent type with just enough of a fake moral compass to give Blanche the false impression he’s her savior. But as Mister Bisagaier goes deeper, he brings out the flawed coward that Mitch really is.
The rest of the cast that included: Ashely Widmer as Eunice, Joe Buzz as Steve. Jamie Castro as Pablo, Dianne Parker as the neighbor, Ross Pholing as the Young Collector, Scott Karlin was the doctor and Emily Rossoniello was the nurse, all contributed to this well-crafted opening night.
As there always are, there were some issues. Some of the background music did at times overshadow the dialogue. The placement of Blanche’s trunk, an essential prop was obstructed behind the kitchen table was not seen by half of the house. Our Paper Collector looked more like he was from Newsies and not from sub-tropical post-war Louisiana. And where were those red silk pajamas?
But these issues are minor and had little bearing on the fine performances of this well-directed version of one of the most enduring stage dramas ever composed.
The play runs until September 28 and is highly recommended. Ticket information is available at VillagersTheatre.com.