During the past month, I have enjoyed the singular pleasure of rehearsing with the cast of Tennessee Wiliams’s classic “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a coproduction of Catalyst Repertory and Magic Thread Cabaret which runs weekends March 3 – 19 at IndyFringe Basile Theatre. I play Pablo Gonzales, one of Stanley’s Kowalski’s poker playing cronies. That means I have been up close and personal, interacting with and observing my fellow cast members as we all go through the process of developing our characters.
Having already profiled Sara Castillo Dandurand (Blanch DuBois) and Ian McCabe (Stanley Kowalski) in this column, I decided to also sit down with wildly talented actors Anna Himes (Stella) and Brian DeHeer (Mitch). They play primary supporting characters who are pivotal in Tennessee Williams’s classic tale with its main themes of reality vs. fantasy, the emotive power of music, and cultural conflicts.
Himes, who is 23 years old, is making her Catalyst Repertory and Magic Thread Cabaret debut. Her credits include Ophelia in “Hamlet,” and Corie in “Barefoot in the Park.” Outside of acting, she works in public health research. DeHeer, also 23, is making his debut in his very first play. Having attended IU, where he majored in cinema and minored in theatre, he aspires to continue acting, but his first love is sketch comedy.
Recently I chatted with the two emerging artists in a Zoom call from their homes. Below is the edited transcript of our conversation.
What do you believe your characters have in common? Let’s start with you Anna.
AH: Sure. I believe that both characters are stuck between tycoons, and I say that lovingly, Stanley and Blanche, who are big personalities. Stella and Mitch are very much the mediators. That said, I do not think they lack agency. They are still fully fleshed people just as much as Blanche and Stanley are but their emotionality and affect is not as big and ostentatious on the surface as opposed to the way that Blanche and Stanley communicate.
BD: Both of them are in similar situations. They come from similar backgrounds where they haven’t been leaders or spoken up which leads to internal emotions they have bottled up, and I think that is shown throughout the entire play. Stanley and Blanche show their emotions, but Stella and Mitch keep theirs to themselves and that kind of bleeds out through their motives and actions as well.
AH: I think both of them don’t take the front lines when it comes to getting the spotlight and not garnering the same level of attention as Blanche and Stanley. They tend to be sublimating, and they’re people pleasers in a way. They want to be servants and make people feel comfortable and good—definitely with Stella. Mitch too has a sensitive side. He cares for his mother. He does not have the same level of coarseness Stanley’s friends do.
Brian, what do you think Mitch’s backstory is?
BD. A big part of my character dive was imagining Stanley and Mitch in the war together, which was pivotal for both. Mitch knows he is not the strongest mentally or physically, and he was aware of how Stanley carried himself and saw him as someone who could help him get out of the war alive. When he returned home, his mother gets sick, and he spends a lot of time with her. War, and certainly the most recent ones, cause PSTD and changes personalities. He started tailing Stanley in the war and tails him in civilian life too. The fact that he works with him too means he spends a lot of time with him, Steve, and Pablo, and the others who surround Stanley and his mother. Taking care of someone is a very heavy load to bear, so he doesn’t have much of an escape. His only form of connection is through Stanley and his friends. In my mind, he doesn’t really get along with them as real friends would, but he doesn’t really have a whole lot of other options because he doesn’t have time to go out and meet new people. A lot of those times, those who have been to war may not have the motivation to go out and meet new people. That’s why I think when Blanche comes into the picture it is an opportunity, and she has qualities that appeal to him. He sees her as someone he could actually have a relationship with.
Anna, how do you think Stella met up with someone like Stanley?
AH: That is a good question. Why did she even leave Belle Reve? Why did she even leave her home? Whatever circumstances were present when she met Stanley aren’t revealed specifically but we do know that the only way for her to meet him was by leaving her previously genteel, high society Southern Belle lifestyle. So I think the specificities of how they met hones in on the fact that however they met, it required her to leave her old life. I haven’t tried to pinpoint the reasons she left but I think whatever they were, there must have been some reason, some level of dysfunction that caused her to leave and make her own life.
Do you think Blanche’s manipulation of Stella had something to do with it?
AH: Yes, I think she has a quality that allows larger personalities than herself take over. I think she gathers a great sense of identity and value from how she is able to serve other people. She may not have grown up to receive the same kind of attention others around her did. I can see her falling into the arms of Stanley who has a big robust personality and takes that personality and puts it on her and she gets to be the recipient of his own desire and affection and she gets to bathe in that love and gets to find ever more value by being his wife and by having her own castle, even though it is in New Orleans and not a high society lifestyle but she gets to be a Queen in some way.
What do you think of the domestic violence aspect in the play?
AH: I think it’s a very big DuBois quality for Stella, perhaps, to be living in a fairy tale state of being. It’s more evident in the script with Blanche when she quotes poetry and wants to keep beauty alive. With Stella it comes out too, but it comes out in quieter ways, and it looks like being in denial about her current state of living. I think deep down she knows it is not right, but she is so caught up in the intense, really intense frenzy she has in her relationship with Stanley. In large part she does love him and does love Blanche.
Brian, what do you think about Tennessee Williams’s writing style?
BD: Again, this my first play. In scene work with Sara, she pointed out where the commas and dashes in the script are and that I was speeding through some of my lines. She pointed out how poetic it is, so I realized I needed to take time to stop. Ian in his interview with you said it was similar to Shakespeare…the meter. I started using that with my own character portrayal to create a balance. He almost gives you some slight direction like Shakespeare did. The style of Shakespeare’s writing didn’t need a director. You just read it out. It is very similar to Tennessee Williams’s.
Anna, what has playing Stella meant to you?
AH: When I first read “Streetcar” in high school, I thought, “The character I’m going to latch onto is Blanche.” It was not Stella. Growing up, Blanche was my favorite. She stuck out for me because she is so large and how big her emotions are and how ripe her character is for acting. But a far as Stella, after reading the script and diving into the character, it is incredibly meaningful because there are a lot of things that are under the surface that are fun to tease out and it’s interesting and rewarding to show those details. There are a lot of decisions she makes in her life that I would hope I would not make in my life. For me it’s important to play characters who are nothing like you because it helps you broaden your sense of empathy.
How does it feel for you as an actor to portray the sexual energy between you and Stanley, Anna? Also, because one was not available, there is no intimacy director in the production, does that hinder you?
I am a young actor who does not have the same level of experience as others. I am coming to the theatre with fresh eyes and do not know what is like to have an intimacy director or not, so I view the stage as a safe place to tell important and relevant stories. For me, theatre provides catharsis for both the actor and the audience, and everyone involved, so I have no fear and realize I am in a safe environment. I believe an intimacy director can provide comfort for those who require it, however.
Brian, since this is your first play, how has your acting experience been?
BH: Finding similarities with the character I am playing and leading with the heart to portray Mitch honestly has been rewarding. Regardless of your character’s flaws, you need to empathize in order to portray them well. You have to find how you relate to them, but you also have to find out how you are different as well. Actors have different styles whether it is Stanislavski or Adler, or whatever but finding ways to separate yourself from the character is important. This is a very heavy story, and we are not like our characters. We don’t want to take that sadness and depression home with us. That is what I have found. I have found my similarities with Mitch but have also found our differences.
What is it about Mitch that you relate to?
BH: I travel a lot, I live with my mom, which makes me a method actor (laughs). Everyone has a mother but they may differ. I was never a caregiver, but my mother was, and I observed how much work she put into it. The fact that I am also a son is one of the biggest connections I have made with Mitch. Another thing is my realization that although you need your time with your family you also need to be around your friends. As far as Mitch, his second job is caring for his mother and since he doesn’t really have friends, he’s very lonely which later spins into his sadness and anger. Since he needs someone so much, Blanche represents the solution for him to regain the happiness he may have had before the war and meeting Stanley and before becoming a caregiver.
Anna, how has your experiences working with your fellow cast members been, thus far?
AH: I welcome the opportunity to work with actors who have a wealth of experience, so I gain further insight and be elevated to new levels.
BD: I am the person in the cast with the least experience so I’m trying to be a sponge as much as I can be. I am trying to pick up things as I go but feel like I’m making a progression. The acting journey for me is about trying to grow and become a better person.
How is your experience working with Casey Ross, our director?
AH: It’s been wonderful working with her. She has given us professional direction but also keeps things light by telling us jokes and making us laugh.
BD: Casey understands the tone of the play. She knows what she wants and how to go about it and how to bring it out of the actors. In her direction she’ll suggest ways of playing certain things. Her suggestions are like looking at a tree and then you back up and see a forest. She helps me find the depth of my character. She helps me find perspective that takes me to places that are vast.
Do you believe this particular project is special?
BH: Since the is my first play it feels special for me. Sure.
AH: I think so. It is such a big story. Plus, I have never done anything in Indianapolis.
What does the future hold for the both of you?
BH: I plan to move to Chicago soon. I would eventually like to move to New York. I enjoy sketch comedy. My favorite things are acting and sketch comedy, but I can see myself doing more plays. I would like to find a day job and taking classes at Second City. I like dramatic acting but love sketch comedy and look forward to getting back to that.
AH: I do see myself acting more in the future. I have been trying my best not to place limits on myself or identify myself too strongly with any one thing. I find theatre meaningful and something I wish to pursue.
What can audiences expect from coming to see “Streetcar?”
AH: I think they can expect to see dynamic shades of grey in action. No one in this play is literally a villain, but villainous actions are taken. I believe my cast members are doing a wonderful job communicating these shades of grey through their attentive and intelligent approaches to their characters.
BD: I feel like emotional people will be able to relate to this story through almost every character. Get a look at what it was like when talking about your emotions was not the norm, and the effect of what bottling your emotions can have. I think the play especially during our time, shows the importance of mental health and that everyone is really going through a battle that people maybe don’t know about. I think all the actors in the show are working well with their internal struggles with the characters and how and if those characters allow their struggles to show during their everyday lives.