Tennessee William’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” is one of those shows that is timeless—just ask Katharine Powell who is playing Blanche, the perplexedly dynamic Southern Belle in the Arden Theatre company’s production of “Streetcar.” Along with Powell for this show comes the creative direction of the Arden’s Artistic Director, Terry Nolan. Together, both Nolan and Powell are trying to bring William’s story to life as he intended—raw and honestly.
Powell sat down with Metro to discuss more about the show, what she hopes audiences will take away and dive into why Tennessee William’s classic storyline will still resonate with audiences in this day and age.
How did you land the role of Blanch in the Arden’s productions of “A Streetcar Named Desire?”
This will be my fourth show at the Arden, the last show I did there was “A Doll’s House,” and right after closing our director Terry Nolan sort of said to me, “So I’m thinking Streetcar?” I got very excited. I think he and I have developed a working relationship over the years so it feels like we are always sort of looking for the next great play to tackle. We started doing some readings of it this past year and that turned into this production.
As an actor, how is it working with the Arden’s Artistic Director?
It’s so great, I love working with Terry specifically. When you’re working with the Artistic Director of a theater, there’s a certain amount of confidence and freedom and authority that they bring into the room because they’re not answering to anybody so they’re not insecure. Terry brings all of that, so you feel really safe and supported. He’s such a generous human being—one of the things that I really appreciate is that he’s a parent and I’m a parent, so he really understands juggling that work/life balance. He also doesn’t micromanage, he tries to get the right people into the room and he tries to stay really true to the text and material. He puts a lot of trust and faith in the actors he works with.
How would you describe your character Blanche and what do you like about her?
Blanche is a dream role—since working on her I’ve made the comparison that Blanche almost feels like the female Hamlet—there’s just so much that goes into playing this role. One of the things that I admire about Blanche is her resilience and her ability to find hope even in the most desperate of circumstances. She’s enormously resourceful and brilliant and has a lot of tools in her toolbelt in terms of getting through the difficulty of life because she also has trauma in her past. This play is in part about somebody trying to make a new life for themselves when they have nothing left and when their past is full of despair and pain. How do you let go of that, move on and make a new life for yourself? It’s also a play about the bond of sisters [as well] and it’s about these competing world views. Blanche has a world view where she sees the beauty and she loves the finer things in life and poetry, art and music and the softness and tenderness that people can bring and kindness. Her view is at odds and in competition with Stanley’s world view, which is more kind of what you see is what you get and realism and a physical kind of intelligence. So there’s this kind of conversation happening between the two of them in the play and the two of them are vying for Stella’s allegiance really.
What do you think it is about this show that still makes it so intriguing and timeless for audiences after all of these years?
I think it speaks to audiences because it’s quite frankly just such a great play. Tennessee Williams poured his heart and soul into this play and it is written within an inch of its life, meaning he wrote it all on the page. I think that audiences feel that and respond to that, there is just something incredibly raw about this play that speaks to us. I think particularly in this moment in time, the conversation that America is having politically, the audience will find some resonance in this cultural moment within this play that is about real life and real people.
What are you most excited for audiences to see play out in “A Streetcar Named Desire”?
Honestly, one of the things that’s most interesting in this play is just Blanche’s journey—where she begins this play to where she ends the play. I think both Terry and I are interested in exploring how large of a journey that can be. You really see this women who’s basically lost everything, but she’s very much fighting for the things that she wants in life. Every scene in this play is just so beautifully written and there’s such a wonderful ensemble, all of the actors are just so strong it’s really delightful to be playing with all of them. Finding that really truthful moment to moment work really puts a light up on the stage and my hope is that this play will resonate for people. It is set in the late 1940s, but we’re still bringing our own selves and humanity to this work so that people will feel that there’s truth happening on stage.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” will play onstage at the Arden Theatre Company March 12-April 12. For more information and tickets visit ardentheatre.org