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SHOW FOLK: The Cast of “A Streetcar Named Desire”

April 3rd, 2012

Wood Harris, Nicole Ari Parker, Blair Underwood & Daphne Rubin-Vega in "A Streetcar Named Desire". Image via

Spend just a few minutes in a room with the company of A Streetcar Named Desire and one thing is immediately clear: this is the hottest cast on Broadway. And I don’t just mean physically attractive, though Blair Underwood (In Treatment), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent), Nicole Ari Parker (Boogie Nights) and Wood Harris (The Wire) are a stunning foursome . No, their heat is also a product of their passion for the work and an outspoken determination to make this revival, the first multicultural Streetcar on Broadway, a richer, deeper experience.

In the run-up to their first preview (tonight at the Broadhurst), the entire cast and their director Emily Mann gathered at B. Smith’s to talk about the genesis of this production, the ghosts of prior versions of the play and why this will be one of the steamiest stage trips to New Orleans you’ll ever take. (And just to sweeten the deal, check out our special discount code for tickets at the end of the post!)

On the decision to do an interracial production:

Mann: “It’s sort of why not? What took so long? It’s such an obvious way to do this play. It’s the meaning of New Orleans; to have that gumbo of ethnicities and races makes the city the incredible and unique place it is in America. …Tennessee [Williams] himself wanted always to see the play done this way. He had hoped it would be done on Broadway in 1955 but it was Sweet Bird of Youth, I think, that was premiering and they didn’t want two of his own shows to be competing on Broadway. So it never happened. But he gave permission all through his life to have this done and I think he’d be thrilled by what we are doing today.”

On the draw of Streetcar

Underwood: “…it’s Tennessee Williams. It’s beautiful. Poetry. It’s human. It’s brutal. It’s vulnerable. It’s passionate. It’s desire. It’s all of those things. That’s why it’s an iconic play. That’s why it’s a classic. That’s why people should come see it.”

Daphne Rubin-Vega. Image via

On what she identifies with in her character:

Rubin-Vega: “A sense of overwhelm. I identify with feeling overwhelmed and wanting to control situations that are beyond my control. And wanting peace in the valley. I think that’s what I identify most with about Stella right now.”

On why Mann cast these actors:

Parker: “I think the other two Blanche’s were busy.”  [laughter]

Mann: “It’s really a tricky question to answer without getting in the way of the work we’re doing right now. Because some of the people are drawing on deep, deep, deep things within and some are transforming in ways you’ve never seen them before. And these are well known actors. You’re going to see them do things I’ve never seen them do before in their body of work. Maybe I’ve missed it but I’m not so sure that’s true. So, it’s very private. But I do feel that not only is each one magnificently cast, if I do say so myself, but the chemistry between them–you always pray for this. You don’t know until you get in the room and then, bingo, the first day it was just…”

Harris: “We were on our feet the first day. We were cooking the meal day one.”

On the chance to stretch as an actor:

Harris: “Three days before I got the call from Emily, I was saying out loud, ‘I want to do Broadway.’ Literally. I thought to myself, yeah, because I get cast in the same stuff over and over again in Hollyweird. They’re going to cast me [as certain kinds of characters] and I’ll get that and say no again and no again — but then you’ve got to keep the lights on. So you can only say no nineteen times. Twenty, you’ve got to take it. [laughter] It’s kind of spiritual and organic. It kind of came from, I won’t say no where, but it came from the ether of…fate. Three days later, ‘What do you think about Mitch on Broadway?’ Stop it!

On Rubin-Vega as Stella: 

Parker: “What blew me away about Daphne playing my sister is that I, like everyone else, had a very clear idea of what Stella was and who Stella was. And I think every Stella that came before this was magnificent but, with all due respect, nobody has done Stella like this. It changed the way…it informs the entire play. Because she is what we are fighting over.”

Harris: “She’s a hot Stella.”

Parker: “That’s it in a nutshell, she’s hot.”

Wood Harris, Nicole Ari Parker, Emily Mann, Daphne Rubin-Vega & Blair Underwood at press event for "A Streetcar Named Desire". Photo by Jeff Fasano.

On memories of the movie:

Daphne: “At first it is a hindrance. We’re not doing the movie at all. The movie is wonderful in and of itself…[but] painfully sanitized when you’ve read the piece. It’s a Marlon Brando show, and that’s all good, but this is not that. That ain’t this.”

Harris: “Doesn’t the movie leave out the rape?”

Daphne: “The rape. Homosexuality.”

On the spector of Vivien Leigh’s Blanche:

Parker: “Her ghost lingered with me for a long time. I was even haunted by Cate Blanchett, when she did it at BAM. I mean, these are brilliant actresses. And they’ve interpreted this material so well that they’ve become a standard. But I had to work twice as hard to find my Blanche with Emily’s help and with this cast. It took me a while to let the ghosts of Blanches past leave the room, for me to finally trust myself. Because some of the things they did really worked. [laughter] But Emily pushed me to find my own sound.”

On jazz master and film composer Terence Blanchard’s score:

Parker: “It’s unbelievable. It has completely filled the spaces between these characters… He’s scored the overall feeling of the play. It’s totally another character in the play. Terence’s music is just robust with feeling and emotionality.”

On what to expect from this production:

Rubin-Vega: “Graphic sex.”  [laughter]  “Maybe not.”

The new Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire starts previews April 3 and officially opens at the Broadhurst Theatre on April 22. To use a special Broadway Blog discount on tickets, click here.


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