For anyone serious about the craft of acting, there are certain roles that many would give their eyeteeth to portray. One of those iconic characters that many dream of playing is Blanche Dubois. A main character in Tennessee Williams’s classic drama, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Blanche is an aging Southern belle who lives in a state of perpetual panic about her fading beauty and how others view her. One local actor, Sara Castillo Dandurand, is about to inhabit the plum role of the tragic Blanche in a Catalyst Repertory and Magic Thread Cabaret co-production of “Streetcar,” directed by Casey Ross, March 3-19 at IndyFringe Basile Theatre, and is ecstatic about the opportunity to do so.
Castillo is a native of the Seattle area and former attorney who, after five years of practice, decided to pursue acting. Later, after taking an acting course in Washington D.C. where she lived at the time, she went on to follow her passion. In 2016, she and her husband Nick, also an attorney, moved to Noblesville. After settling in, the mother of two, eventually became active in local community theatre. Her credits include Donna in “Rita from Across the Street,” American Lives Theatre Short Play Festival: Cassie Cooper in “Rumors,” Basile Westfield Playhouse; and Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing,’ at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre.
Recently I chatted with Castillo, whose ancestors originate from Spain, about her role as Blanche and the production itself. Our conversation was especially meaningful because, after a 30-year absence from the stage, yours truly is appearing as Pablo, a minor role in “Streetcar.” My involvement in the production also extends to Magic Thread Cabaret, of which I am managing director, and which is partnering with Catalyst Repertory to present “Streetcar.” Below is an edited transcript of my Zoom chat and email communication with Castillo.
What does it mean for you to play Blanche DuBois?
I cannot imagine a more perfect time in my life and career to tackle this role. Even though I’ve now been acting for over seven years, I’ve never been comfortable referring to or seeing myself as an “artist.” I suppose it can be chalked up to run-of-the-mill imposter syndrome. I came to acting relatively late in life after starting on a very different career path (practicing law). I am so inspired and at times, intimidated, by all of the incredibly talented actors in this community who have been immersed in the craft for far longer than I have. I can’t help but think, “Who am I to consider myself a fellow artist when I have only a fraction of the experience and identity?” I’ve certainly gained more confidence over the years, but up until now, owning my craft has been an uphill battle.
But the prospect of playing Blanche changed that. Once I committed to auditioning for the show and carefully studied the play, a switch was flipped. I’ve never felt more emotionally connected to a character and so self-assured in my characterization. Blanche is someone who has an all-consuming ardor for life, and intensely internalizes both pleasure and pain. She experiences them in equal measure to the outermost extremes. So in order to portray her authentically, I’ve had to summon sense memories of the highest and lowest periods of my life, including struggles with mental illness. This process has enabled me to utilize the entire breadth of my acting training and experience, and it has never felt more holistic. In that regard, this opportunity is the epitome of serendipity.
What is your take on Blanche Duboise?
I see her first and foremost as a survivor. She has been through an unbelievable amount of trauma and must endure and witness things that most people don’t. For her time, she is highly educated and that was indicative of her upbringing as a Southern Belle. Even so, she is well-read, cultured. Even with all of those things, she is expected to serve men, find the perfect husband, have children, and have a traditional life as a wife, mother, and homemaker. Again, for her time, she was incredibly strong, living alone after her husband dies tragically and dealing with other deaths in her family and then having to move into Stella and Stanley’s home. She really did learn a lot, so I am certainly playing that level. Of course, there is also the delusional level, and even though she is a functional alcoholic, I see her strength.
What is her relationship with Stanley Kowalski?
From a character perspective, it is all about control. From Tennessee Williams’s perspective, it really is a battle between the old South and the new, in which those representing the decaying past are pitted against the newer working class. Stanley and Blanche represent, from a societal perspective, that clash of this old and this new world. Stella is the perfect representation of that control. By the time Blanche arrives, Stella’s and Stanley’s relationship is very well established. It is an abusive relationship, but one Stella is used to. Then Blanche comes onto the scene and completely disrupts Stanley’s world. He calls himself the “King of my castle” and here comes Blanche, who is, in many ways, his equal and superior and he has to now contend with that challenge. Plus, to some extent, he still has to respect that Blanche is his wife’s sister. So the entire play is about that clash, and for Blanche, it is about her decline and descent into madness.
What are your thoughts about the domestic violence portrayed in the play?
Domestic violence is still very prevalent today; it absolutely is. The difference is, as depicted in the show, there was a general “turn a blind eye” and “men will be men” attitude toward it back then. Stella ultimately makes the choice to stay with Stanley, in part because she truly loves him, but also because she didn’t see any other “realistic” options for her financial security. Back then, a woman’s lot in life was to serve men – to be the perfect wife and mother. At Sthe time, there were very few career options available to women and for most, working was seen as a last resort (such as with Blanche becoming a teacher after the loss of her family’s estate and fortune). Fortunately, the role of women has radically evolved. Societal passivity toward domestic violence has given way to intolerance, and there are now well-established resources to help those who are trapped in abusive relationships.
What is your impression of your fellow cast members?
I am blown away by them all and think very highly of everybody. It is amazing. At the auditions, I read with everyone who was cast, and I felt a real sense of interplay and engagement with all those who were ultimately cast. Of course, now that we are in rehearsal, and we’ve had a few weeks to work with the script and to work on our character development, it all feels very natural. Casey could not have done a better job casting actors, including you, who so perfectly fit their roles.
What is your impression of Casey as a director?
She is a consummate professional. She and Kathy Hoefgen, the stage manager, are very organized. Casey came into this with a clear vision, knowing exactly what she wants. The way she runs her rehearsals is efficient. What I also like about her is even though she has this grand vision for the show on a more global level, she is really trusting us as actors to develop our characters on our own.
What is the takeaway from “Streetcar?”
The themes of identity and reality versus illusion are very much relevant today. The principal characters in the show are constantly fighting to preserve or attain carefully curated projections of themselves and their worlds. As we discover, the inability or outright refusal to cope with reality results in Blanche’s demise. In that sense, the play holds up a mirror to society and ourselves, forcing us to reflect on our own lives and choices; specifically, how the image we portray to the world differs from our actual, lived experiences. Of course, questions of identity are fluid, and we are rightfully striving to better ourselves. But it never hurts to check in and ensure that our paths to self-discovery are both intentional and authentic.
What are your thoughts on Central Indiana?
It’s a wonderful place to raise children There are so many great opportunities for families here, and that has just been wonderful. And then in terms of the people, the reputation of Midwesterners being hospitable and friendly could not be truer. Moving to a place where I didn’t know anyone was a challenge; it was getting involved in theatre that got me acclimated. I came from Washington, DC, where I did my training and where the theater scene is very vibrant and is nationally acclaimed. It was a high-level, high theater community. So, when I moved here and started to navigate all the different opportunities and the different theaters, it was such a delightful surprise to discover of all these incredible theater companies that are doing provocative and thought-provoking work. I love it here.
For tickets and information about “Streetcar Named Desire” visit catalystrepertory.org.