Finally, finally, after nearly two years of darkness, the Arden Theatre Co. is back, staging Tennessee Williams’ classic play, “A Streetcar Named Desire” starting Jan. 13.
When the pandemic dropped the curtain on theater productions across America in March 2020, the Arden turned off the lights on Streetcar after just one preview performance.
“At that point, we just kept rescheduling the production,” said Terrence J. Nolen, producing artistic director and Arden cofounder. “At first it was just a couple of weeks. Then we scheduled it to open our next season, which would have been the fall of 2020, then February 2021.”
Then, all scheduling was off.
“During that time, the set remained in place, the costumes, the props. Our production staff put sheets over them,” Nolen said. “We put a ghost light in the middle of the stage and just waited. The props company called to say they were going out of business and asked us if we wanted to buy the props from them. We bought them. Our plan was always to return to the production.”
Rehearsals began on Dec. 20. Even though most of the cast, including the lead players, remained the same, it surprised Nolen to hear how the events of the day — particularly the societal divide we are now experiencing — colored the first rehearsal rereading of the lines. Streetcar centers on Blanche DuBois, who having a suffered a loss, moves in with her sister and her sister’s husband, Stanley.
“The discovery was to realize to how it spoke so powerfully to the political moment we find themselves. Blanche and Stanley have opposing worldviews,” Nolen said. “There’s an attempt to reconcile the unreconcilable. There’s a sense that they are trapped together in this space. It’s how the societal division we found ourselves in now manifests in this one family. Hearing it again, it remains, of course, incredibly true. The division the play speaks to is greater than ever.”
Blanche DuBois opens the play by telling her sister about the losses she has suffered. “Those discussions of loss hit us all pretty hard,” said Nolen, who is directing the play. Emilie Krause plays Stella, Matteo Scammell is Stanley, and Katharine Powell stars as Blanche.
While the theater has been dark, the Arden crew has been visiting schools, bringing theater to the classroom. Early on, there had been hopes of doing an on-stage family production in the late fall into the holidays. But, instead, the Arden offered a streaming version of its popular “A Year With Frog and Toad” in December and will launch “The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats” online in mid-January.
Next up on the main stage is “Backing Track,” by satirist R. Eric Thomas. The Arden commissioned the play and has already assembled most of the cast and team. That opens in February.
Subscription and single-ticket sales have been surprisingly good, Nolen said. “I was shocked at how many people bought tickets.” As for the latest COVID-19 surge, Nolen hopes to keep the lights on, following guidelines, union advice, and common sense, with safety protocols and testing in place. “I’m sure with everything going on, everyone’s taking a wait-and-see approach,” he said.
“A Streetcar Named Desire,” Jan. 13 through Feb. 13 at the Arden Theatre, 40 N. Second St., Philadelphia. For tickets, information, ardentheatre.org or 215-922-1122. Mask and vaccine proof required. Check the website for rules about negative COVID tests. “The Snowy Day and Other Stories,” online. Free, but donations requested.
Somi Kakoma as Miriam Makeba at McCarter
Grammy-nominated music sensation Somi Kakoma delivers a moving and musical tribute to South African musical legend Miriam “Mama Africa” Makeba in the world premiere of “Dreaming Zenzile” at the McCarter Theatre Center. The play centers on Makeba’s final concert — one of her best performances ever. But the ancestors are calling her to a spiritual journey of reconciliation through a fractured past. Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, “Dreaming Zenzile” is presented in partnership with, among others, National Black Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, and Apollo Theater.
Jan. 15 through Feb. 13 at the Roger S. Berlind Theater, a part of the McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton. For tickets, information, mccarter.org or 609-258-2787. Masks and vaccine proof required.
Never Let Go of the ‘Titanic’
If you have a sinking feeling about watching James Cameron’s three-hour-plus blockbuster film about the demise of the Titanic, don’t despair. The Bucks County Playhouse is offering “Never Let Go,” a one-man, burlesque-style show that turns the three-hour saga into a one-hour stage show. The sinking of the Titanic as a burlesque show? Yes, when performed by Michael Kinnan, who has sold out his version around the country. “Never Let Go” is Bucks County Playhouse’s first show of its 2022 Visiting Artist Series.
Jan. 14 through 16 at Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., New Hope. For tickets, information, www.buckscountyplayhouse.org or 215.862.2121. Masks and vaccine-proof required.
SALT launches annual local playwright production
SALT Performing Arts reaches into the community to tap into the playwrighting talent of West Chester’s Michael Tarringer, who both penned and directed “Best-Laid Plans for Romance,” SALT’s first annual local playwright production.
“We believe it is important to inspire local playwrights to put pen to paper when they have ideas,” said Lauren McComas, president and artistic director of SALT Performing Arts. “Each year, we will receive script submissions from local playwrights for SALT to produce their show and bring their stories to life.
Tarringer’s dramedy focuses on the Green family. Max and Ruth Green are empty nesters working on finding news ways to relate to their college-aged daughter and themselves.
Tarringer, who began working on the play in 2015, is a regular on the stages of the region’s community theaters, including Old Academy Players and The Stagecrafters. As much as he loves theater, he hasn’t given up his day job. Tarringer works as a class-action lawyer specializing in antitrust, consumer protection, product liability, and pharmaceutical litigation.
Jan. 14 through Jan. 23 at SALT’s Black Box Theatre, 19 Hagerty Blvd., Unit 14, West Chester. For tickets, information, saltpa.com, 610-488-2585. Masks recommended, but not required. No proof of vaccination required for the audience.