As I'm sitting in the second row, taking mental notes on an impressively kinetic performance, a bucket of water is thrust into my hands. I'm asked—no, commanded—by this man, performer, character, this animated metaphor of want, desire, and energy, to throw the water in his face. He is so dynamic, there's no way to refuse. I grab the bucket and douse him. Who is he? The obvious answer is "Stanley," but that serves mostly to introduce the many Stanleys and the ever-shifting nature of their identities in Stanley (2006). But fear not; in the capable hands of co-creators Lisa D'Amour (text and direction) and Todd D'Amour (performer), multiplicity becomes a virtue.
Stanley (2006) is a contemporary Stanley Kowalski, the brash brother-in-law antagonist to Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. This lusty, working-class figure has seeped into popular consciousness, largely due to Marlon Brando's portrayal in the 1951 film. So while all revivals and adaptations necessarily shoulder history, bringing Stanley Kowalski to an audience means excess baggage. Rather than shirk it, the sibling creative team of Stanley (2006) takes it on, transforming potential extra weight into substance.
So who is the man demanding to be drenched? First, he is a man, and he has hungers—metaphorically evident in both Williams's text and Lisa D'Amour's when Stanley tosses a package of meat to his eagerly awaiting wife, Stella. In all incarnations, Stanley exudes virility, and D'Amour's direction aptly takes advantage of the intimate theater space to ensure that the audience knows who the man of the house is. Todd D'Amour delivers a performance of driving physicality, and his dangerously brooding masculinity is crucial to the role and precisely conveyed.
His Stanley prepares to deliver a motivational lecture on losing everything and still coming out on top, "from a man who knows." After all, he's a post-Streetcar Stanley; Stella has taken their child and deserted him. But it's not Stella whom he desires—it's Blanche. No matter that Williams's Stanley raped her and had her carted off to a sanitarium; this Stanley claims he fell in love with her during the rape, and he's now on a quest to find her. And we believe him.
The motivational lecture concept provides a structure that accommodates the video (both prerecorded and live), text (not "lecture-y" at all), and movement that demonstrate Stanley's tragically passionate commitment to this quest. All these elements gel admirably. And while the character may be searching for Blanche, the audience members are on a search for Stanley.
Projected on a 9-by-12-foot screen behind the main playing space is video of Stanley's quest, conceived by video designer Tara Webb. Todd D'Amour is seen silently searching through ravaged city landscapes and rural ones, accompanied by Jeremy Wilson's sound design, which pays homage to the expressionistic soundscape that's specified in Williams's Streetcar text. The siblings D'Amour are from New Orleans and say their deep connection with the city formed one of this project's emotional foundations. Hurricane Katrina's destruction of the city, a devastatingly timely coincidence, adds another layer of significance to this Stanley's quest.
Yet another Stanley is Brando's interpretation from the movie. Fittingly, D'Amour takes on the identity of Brando-as-Stanley at various points. The uncanniness of his Brando yields deserved titters, but the presentation functions on a level deeper than impersonation for its own sake.
Webb, as the Camera Operator, also interacts with D'Amour. Poised on the stage's periphery, she supplements his live performance and the prerecorded search video with a live video feed that provides a visual intimacy with the performer's body and facial expressions, as only a camera and a large screen can. Yet those images are seen in the context of Jeremy Wilson's set—the playing space is a makeshift lecture hall, surrounded by debris, junk, and theater equipment that's artfully arranged to seem hastily cluttered. The audience's attention is drawn to the larger-than-life video images, only to find it pulled back, again and again, to D'Amour's often literally in-your-face performance.
Then there's Brando's portrayal as a touchstone of Method acting, a style where the performer uses emotional memory and personal experience to create a character, ideally making character and actor virtually indistinguishable. D'Amour's demand to be drenched during his climactic attempt to find Stanley's character demonstrated his facility with the Method's tools. Yet with this character many times refracted, the Method's relevance to contemporary experimental theater is called into question.
The man soaking wet is easily identified as Stanley—but he is also many Stanleys. Todd D'Amour is a performer in search of the character, but Lisa D'Amour is just as much a seeker: a writer and director in search of a performer in search of Stanley. In the end, whether Stanley finds Blanche is less important than the fact that we've found him, in an entertaining and intelligent work of theater.