On The Aisle Of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’

March 22, 2023

“A Streetcar Named Desire” cast and crew. Top row L-R Casey Ross, Ian McCabe, Wendy Brown & Missy Rump. Center L-R – Sydney Seibers, Brian De Heer, Matt Kraft & Mitchell Wray. Bottom row L-R Viviana Quinones, Anna Himes, Kathy Hoefgen, Sara Castillo Dandurand, Audrey Stonerock, Courtney Wiggins, Tom Alvarez & Dustin Klein.

I have no idea as to whether there has ever been a professional reviewer who acted in a theatre production.  There may have been someone, somewhere, and at some time but to my knowledge I may well be the first, locally, to have been in the cast of a show. The production I am referring to is “A Streetcar Named Desire,” directed by Casey Ross, which closed Sunday after a successful three-weekend run at IndyFringe’s Basile Theatre. The show, which had mostly sold-out performances and was acclaimed by my fellow critics, was a co-production of Catalyst Repertory and Magic Thread Cabaret.

During the past few months, I have joked that it would be “unseemly” to review the play myself considering that my direct participation as an actor in the production would preclude me from possessing any objectivity. But after some reflection, however, I realized that a report of what I experienced as an inside participant in the show might be of significant interest, perhaps to those who have read my theatre reviews for the past 45 years. Indeed, sharing my perspective as someone who has developed a highly critical eye over the decades might prove valuable as a window into the production process.

When Ross of Catalyst Repertory suggested a partnership between the organization she co-founded with David Pelsue and Taylor Cox and Magic Thread Cabaret, co-founded by artistic director Dustin Klein and me as managing director, to co-produce “Streetcar,” we signed on enthusiastically. Klein and I did so without much deliberation because we realized that sharing resources to produce a classic work such as “Streetcar” would be valuable. We knew it would not only raise the profile of MTC’s and Catalyst’s respective brands but also serve as a model for other arts organizations to partner for purposes of creating a product of high artistic quality.

L-R Ian McCabe as Stanley Kowalski and Tom Alvarez as Pablo Gonzalez. Photo by Rob Slaven. Used with permission,

When director Ross asked me to play the minor role of Pablo Gonzalez, Stanley Kowalski’s Latino poker buddy, I had to think about it before saying yes. I had to overcome my doubts as to whether I could still pull it off after so much time spent away from stage acting. When I began reviewing regularly, I rationalized that it might open me up to pot shots if I were to continue acting myself, so I gave it up thinking I was protecting myself.

Never one to back away from a challenge, however, my instinct told me to face my fear head on and accept Ross’ invitation.  I convinced myself that the rewards would be substantial. Happily, that has come to pass.  The fact is that over the years of seeing others’ work on stage, I greatly missed performing and yearned to experience it again. In the end, my desire to once again act eclipsed my unfounded doubts and fears.

For my producing partner Klein, “Streetcar” was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compose and perform his original music and play songs from the Great American Songbook for an iconic classic – one which drew substantial praise for him from critics and audience members alike. The last time Klein wrote original music was for our original creation “Calder, The Musical.” The show which premiered in 2017 at IndyFringe remains one of the theatre’s top-selling and critically acclaimed shows.

Admittedly, when Klein and I made the decision to partner with Catalyst, we had to take into account that there were risks in a collaboration that involved giving up primary artistic control. In other words, we would not have any say when it came to casting, so we had to trust Ross, whose 2022 productions of “Lanista” and “Tortillo 3: Sombrero’s Revenge” I had favorably reviewed. Frankly, we were concerned that the quality of the cast chosen would not meet our own standards for talent and professionalism. But our trust in Ross’s judgment was validated at the table read in early February when we first met at Refinery 46, a coworking space near Indy’s SoBro neighborhood and where we spent the next three weeks or so rehearsing.

The table read was where I first laid eyes on the majority of the cast which included Sara Castillo Dandurand (Blanche Dubois), Ian McCabe (Stanley Kowalski), Anna Himes (Stella), Brian DeHeer (Mitch), Audrey Stonerock (Eunice). Mark Kraft (Steve), Mitchell Wray (The Young Collector), Viviana Quiñones (The Flower Lady), Klein (French Quarter pianist/Composer) David Mosedale (Doctor/ Townsperson), Wendy Brown (Nurse/townsperson), and of course, yours truly. Not present was Courtney Wiggins (French Quarter singer) who was a last-minute replacement. Upon observing this group of actors, I quickly realized, despite the fact that I was myself a member of the cast, that I would also inevitably wear my critic hat throughout the entire process of production and performance. And without question, I could tell from the very start that the caliber of talent of this group was high indeed as I witnessed these artists. What I also noticed was that each actor brought their A-game to that first reading and each was in performance mode from the very beginning. It was an auspicious beginning and one which portended something very special was about to happen that would ultimately create the buzz in our local theatre community that it richly deserved.

Over the course of three weeks prior to tech week, I wasn’t present at every rehearsal, but during those I did attend, I was thoroughly impressed with the dedication, professionalism and work ethic of the company, mesmerized at the skillful manner in which he developed his/her character. Sometimes they had to endure hardships while working in difficult conditions in the coworking space. An example was one memorable night when the troupe was forced to compete with oppressively loud rock music emanating from an adjacent bar and patrons running in and out of the rehearsal space to use the bathroom. Observing my unfazed fellow actors, patiently going with the flow I grew fond of them as I watched them engage one another, I was struck at how kind and generous they were, not to mention good natured and personable. Those qualities only grew stronger up to closing night.

It was at the rehearsal space that I also first observed Ross’s discerning directing style. Though clear about her vision, and firmly in control of the process, she was also flexible and willing to receive input from cast members and operate in the true spirit of collaboration. Overall, I conclude that detail-oriented Ross, who also coordinated the show’s pitch perfect period costumes, has great style, taste, and aesthetics, all of which were reflected in the final product. Most importantly, Ross’s insight regarding Williams’s script was astute, and her interpretation was impeccable.

Assisting Ross and contributing to the well-oiled execution of the project was stage manager Kathy Hoefgen, who also excelled at collecting most of the authentic period props that graced the set. Also, making invaluable contributions to “Streetcar” was IU student Sydney Seibers who served as a production assistance intern. Missy Rump, a community theatre veteran, joined the stage crew on opening night.

Completing the show’s first-rate creative team was designer Nick Kilgore, whose distinctive set drew raves for its innovative design featuring a two-story sculpture-like structure. At one point during the rehearsal process Ross encouraged actors to utilize the set like a “jungle gym” as they “played” in character in the “Streetcar” world, in some cases, mere feet from audience members. Seated in the thrust stage, three-sided seating configuration, the audience was party to an environment that gave “intimate” a new meaning. Responsible for the atmospheric representation of the show’s starkness was up-and-coming lighting designer Kairon Bullock.

As far as the run itself, it’s an understatement to say that I enjoyed myself.  Waiting backstage each night enjoying the camaraderie among the cast was a total joy as was listening to the audience’s positive response. And to be under the lights again “in the moment” with my fellow actors was an absolute thrill as were the standing ovations we received after nearly all six performances.

During the past few days, I have been experiencing what is commonly known amongst theatre folks as the “post-show blues,” a condition that has plagued me every time a show that I have been a part of closes. It’s a period of grieving which for me has always been difficult, going all the way back to when I first began acting as an IU theatre student in 1967. It’s one of the reasons why I gave up acting for a while – because of the grief I have undergone upon parting ways with fellow actors and crew with whom I’ve bonded followed by the inevitable let down. The striking of the show’s set and dressing rooms is always a sad time for me and something that I have always dreaded. But then again, that is what makes “live theatre” so special – its transitory nature. In general, and on the positive side, I count my experience as a participant in this work of art as one of my proudest achievements and a highlight of my career. Will I take to the boards again? Absolutely. The bug has bitten again.

Visit Catalyst Repertory for info about its upcoming production of “Starmites.” Visit Magic Thread Cabaret for info about its IndyFringe Festival production of “Broadway’s Bad Girls.”




photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and Examiner.com, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Life. Style. Live!

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

On the Aisle Team

  • Creation, content, and publishing: Tom Alvarez
  • Copy editing: Marcia Eppich-Harris
  • Graphic design:- Casey Ross
  • Web marketing and development – 4621 Creative Solutions
  • Web development: Clay Mabbitt

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