The opening scene of El Ingenio Teatro’s Spanish-language adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is visually arresting and theatrically intriguing. The actors are scattered about the stage, frozen in expressive gestures. Smoke wafts through a stage lit in electric blue, and the funky, Latin-fusion grooves of the Madrid-based band Picadillo blare through the speakers.
At first glance, it seems like a new Streetcar has rolled into town, and it’s going to be very contemporary and undeniably Latino. However, what playwright Raquel Carrió and director Lilliam Vega deliver is a version that is truer to the original than the play’s first few moments let on. While not a tour de force, El Ingenio Teatro’s Un tranvía llamado deseo, now showing at Trail Theater with English supertitles, is a Streetcar with passion despite some bumps in the road.
In Carrió’s adaptation, the setting, time period, and costumes are true to the classic and the actors who portray the powerhouse trio of Blanche (Diana Quijano), Stella (Rosalinda Rodríguez), and Stanley (Gabriel Porras) give strong performances.
Porras captures an animalistic, rough-hewn Stanley. The chemistry with Stella is palpable, and their scenes have the trademark animal magnetism. Porras’ Stanley draws laughs from the audience with his sarcastic edge although he doesn’t fully capture Stanley’s vulnerability — a trait much more difficult to ascertain yet vital to this iconic role’s complexity.
Rodríguez vividly portrays Stella as a conflicted woman. On one hand, she wants to be loyal to her past and protective of her sister. At the same time, she revels in the carnal pleasure and destructive enmeshment of her relationship with Stanley.
One of the most interesting aspects of Carrió’s adaptation is the role of a flower vendor-gypsy figure who appears throughout the play, hawking red flowers for passion, white flowers for innocence, and marigolds for the dead. This character enigmatically played by Sonya Smith is very similar to Silveria, the priestess/witch figure that Carrió created for Ingenio Teatro in her adaptation of García Lorca’s Blood Wedding last June. She is a haunting presence as the harbinger of the characters’ bad fortune.
The role of Mitch, played by Jorge Álvarez, seems under-utilized in this version. His interactions with Blanche don’t carry the dramatic weight they should, which affects the play’s dramatic crescendo. Finally, there’s the appearance of Blanche’s under-aged boyfriend, and the odd decision to cast a woman (Rocío Carmona) in that part. Since the affair is the scandal that sent her seeking the refuge of her sister’s home, it’s an interesting choice; however, Carmona is not believable as a boy and the scenes with Blanche lack purpose and chemistry.
Quijano is convincing as Blanche. In particular, she captures Blanche’s mental decline with nuance and just enough of Williams’ Southern macabre tone. On the whole, the dramatic triangle of Blanche, Stanley, and Stella will give Streetcar junkies their fix. However, one can’t help but wonder what the version could have been had it followed the direction of its opening scene.