It’s Like ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ On Ecstasy


The minds behind “Richard 3,” a Shakespeare-meets-punk standout of the Fringe Festival, have now tackled “A Streetcar Named Desire,” mixing a modern, party-fueled interpretation of the Tennessee Williams play with the stories around its conception.

Some fans might be familiar with the theory that Blanche was modeled after the playwright’s sister Rose, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and lobotomized. That backstory is essential to the Less Than Rent production “Desire! (A Varsouviana),” in which selections from “Streetcar” proper are bookended by scenes of Williams in the process of imagining it, and struggling to separate fact from fiction.

The real story here is the playwright’s guilt over failing both his sister and his lover. The first connection is clear enough, as Rachel Buethe’s manic and melodramatic Blanche easily slips into the role of Rose at the end. But Natalie Kropf’s double stint as Williams’s lover and a young reporter is more confused than clarifying. Luckily, her brief appearance as his mother is an absolute showstopper.

Patrick Fleury’s brutal Stanley is a force of nature, giving a forward momentum to the piece which makes its two-hour runtime seem half as long. Part of the show’s brilliance is that the question of whether to sympathize with Blanche or Stanley is not answered but split down the middle: Williams himself insists on Blanche’s role of “heroine,” but the audience sees the havoc she causes, which Stanley tries to fix.

There is, of course, plenty of havoc at Elysian Fields already. While “Richard 3” was set in a post-nuclear England, “Desire!” seems to take place in a teenaged clubhead’s MDMA-fueled fever dream. This by itself is not such a bad thing, as long as one accepts that Williams, after hanging up his rotary phone, closed his eyes and imagined strobelights and amplifiers. The show is funny, and such absurdities are used to great effect.

The music, maybe less so. DJ Dan Geggatt, in an attempt to convey the modern club scene’s general feel, has managed to dredge up the most thoughtless electronic music of the past five years, and blasts it fairly consistently throughout the show. The contrast between Skrillex and the Miles Davis tunes playing during Williams’ scenes is powerful the first time, but quickly loses its charms; Stanley’s iconic howls of “STELLA!” are just emasculated by the beat underneath, clearly trying to be aggressive.

Though the music choice is perhaps a misstep, credit must be given to Less Than Rent for taking it. The company reappropriates great works with careful consideration of their themes, settings, origins, and reactions; the irreverent creations are thoughtful, hilarious, and a thrill to watch.

“Desire! (A Varsouviana),” through Dec. 15 at Under St. Marks, 94 Saint Marks Place between (1st Avenue and Avenue A); tickets ($18) at or
(212) 868-4444.