John Hoogenakker, Michael Perez, Sean Fortunato, and Karen Janes Woditsch. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Review: DEATH OF A STREETCAR NAMED VIRGINIA WOOLF: A PARODY at Writers Theatre in Collaboration With The Second City
By Cara Winter
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and themselves for our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read…” but you won’t find any of that here, so I’ll have to get my kicks elsewhere. Because in the case of the Writers Theater production of DEATH OF A STREETCAR NAMED VIRGINIA WOOLF: A PARODY, this critic can only say one thing… “Bravo”. (Or, rather, “Guffaw…”)
To create DEATH OF A STREETCAR… Tim Ryder (Co-Creator), Tim Sniffen (Co-Creator & Writer), Michael Halberstam and Stuart Carden (Directors) have taken four of the most beloved, iconic, and (some would say) over-produced American plays, smashed them together, then peppered it with references from the absurd to the sublime. The result is a delightful, irreverent, Franken-parody—a raucous, gleeful, no-holds-barred send-up of an entire genre. This one-act, 70-minute juggernaut is a non-stop laugh riot, with pacing so relentless, there’s barely enough time to catch your breath. From the moment the Narrator opens his mouth, smiling warmly and peering out over his ridiculous spectacles… they’ve got you, and resistance is futile.
With Linda Buchanan’s inspired Set Design, Lighting Design by Jesse Klug, and Sound Design by Joshua Horvath, the small stage is transformed into an interior-exterior mash-up of Stanley Kowalski’s beat-up abode in the heart of ‘Nawlins. The peeling paint, garish shop signs, and streetcar bells set the scene perfectly, as Stanley welcomes Blanche, George & Martha, Willy Loman, and Our Town’s quaint-ish Narrator for what seems to be days of total nonsense. Costumes by Jenny Mannis were equally perfect, the jewel in her crown being Stanley’s grey T-shirt, stained with a heavy sweat that neither spread nor evaporated.
The entire cast was spot on, gleefully and playfully filling the (clown) shoes of those who’ve come before. Karen Janes Woditsch and John Hoogenakker played well off of each other as George and Martha with a kind of familiar loathing that will only get better with time. Marc Grapey gave us a lost, shlumpy Willy Loman, a salesman who has no idea what he sells, while Michael Perez embodied well the brutish, iconic (yet somehow strangely well-read) Stanley Kowalski. Sean Fortunato’s folksy, aw-shucks Narrator also takes on many supporting roles throughout, though he’s best as “Mark Twain drenched in butterscotch”. The stand-out performance of the show, though, was Jennifer Engstrom as Blanche DuBois, whose scenery-chewing, scene-stealing mania was at its best hilarious, and at its worst, even more hilarious. Engstrom’s concoction is somehow the love-child of Alan Rickman in ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and Faye Dunaway in MOMMIE DEAREST, born whilst taking as smoke break with Kathleen Turner in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. In short, Ms. Engstrom’s performance is a work of art. Very, very strange, hot, art.
If there is one drawback to this play, it’s that it is designed solely for the habitual theatergoer, as 90% of the jokes come from the American dramatic canon. That’s not a critique; I wouldn’t have it any other way. Just, don’t bring your 15-year-old niece who thinks psychological drama is SCANDAL. (Consider taking her to COMPANY in June.) No, for DEATH OF A STREETCAR… either find a theater major, or call an old friend who’s been around the block (preferably one who saves and/or frames their Playbills), or, hell, just go by yourself. However you get there, alone or in packs, get ye hence to Writers Theater before Blanche and that “rattle-trap street-car bangs through the Quarter…” for the last time.