COURTESY OF ALEXIA HSIN CHEN
Blanche DuBois (Guen Montgomery) is haunted by a ghost (Mary Shirley) from her past.
Therapist helps makes ‘Streetcar’ run
Good acting always requires that actors see the world through the eyes of their characters. Lurana Donnels O'Malley, director of the University of Hawaii-Manoa's "A Streetcar Named Desire," wanted her cast to go deeper than the usual exercises, so she brought in psychotherapist Tracy Trevorrow to "examine" each actor in character -- as if they had stepped into his office straight off the streets of New Orleans.
'A Streetcar named Desire'
On stage: 8 p.m. Nov. 10, 11, 16, 17 and 18; and 2 p.m. Nov. 19
Place: Kennedy Theatre, UH-Manoa
Tickets: $16; $14 UH faculty/staff, students, seniors and military; $5 UH-Manoa students
Call: 956-7655 or online at www.etickethawaii.com.
Also: Felicia Hardison Londre, author of "Tennessee Williams: His Life and Work," will speak at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at the UH Hamilton Library, before the final performance of "Streetcar." Free.
The cast members -- Guen Montgomery (Blanche), Nina Buck (Stella), Reb Beau Allen (Stanley) and Jeremy Dowd (Mitch) -- were told to discuss whatever was on their characters' minds.
Trevorrow, responding to questions by e-mail, wrote that he treated them "as I would any other client (except send a bill)."
"I laid out a few ground rules regarding my conduct as a therapist. First, I did not break my own character. From greeting my client to escorting them to the door, I was a psychotherapist (magically transported to 1940s New Orleans). ... I did not, however, adopt a method of psychotherapy that was typical of the place and time (i.e., Freudian psychodynamic therapy that focused on unconscious processes). Instead, I used psychological approaches that I employ in my current practice, those that promote self-exploration."
Trevorrow found that the most difficult aspect of the process was not allowing his prior knowledge of Tennessee Williams' story affect his treatment of his "patients." Rather than "steer" Blanche or Stanley into certain "hot spots," he let the clients set the agenda.
"Psychotherapy sessions are usually best when the client does the steering," he wrote. "I had to remind myself I was just along for the ride."
Montgomery came into the role of Blanche with high expectations. She was familiar with "Streetcar" as theater and as a high school English assignment. She had also "enacted a scene" in the role of Stella in high school. Best of all, the role of Blanche is one that she's always wanted to do.
Playing Blanche in a scene that Williams didn't write -- "Blanche Visits a Psychotherapist" -- was "really fulfilling. ... I think it was one of the most helpful preparations that I've done as an actor. Not only did it give us insights into the mental workings of your character, but also having to be in character that long and so fully with somebody else that you have to be prepared to improvise and respond to."
She said she talked to Trevorrow as if she really were Blanche, and he explained how he as a psychologist would interpret her personality. "There were a lot of interesting questions about all the characters, but especially with Blanche, because she has so many interesting mental things going on," Montgomery said.
"She's not necessarily insane, the way she's sometimes played, but the delusions and her dream world ... are sort of a choice, an escape. It's not a symptom of (being) bi-polar or something like that. ... I think that Blanche is fully a part of the magical world that she makes for herself."
Blanche DuBois could need a magical world to soften the cruel realities of her world. The family plantation has been foreclosed, and she is living with her sister, Stella, and her brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, a rough-edged member of the working class, in a cramped apartment in New Orleans. Blanche feels that Stella married beneath her; Stanley is aware of Blanche's feelings and dislikes her, yet is attracted to her. Stella is what is now described as an "enabler," a person who sometimes deliberately provokes her violent husband. Stanley's buddy, Mitch, is attracted to the seductive illusion Blanche projects.
"One of (Blanche's) lines is about how deception is 50 percent of a woman's charms," Montgomery says.
"She also says that she wants to create magic, that she misrepresents things. She doesn't tell the truth, she tells what ought to be true, and I think that's a perfect example of her mindset about lies, because (she's) sort of weaving this web of something more beautiful than reality."
Trevorrow says the psychotherapy sessions worked well to prepare the actors for the show, although he couldn't say the same for the characters themselves.
"With just a little suspension of disbelief, I found these characters to be real. It was thrilling, and I felt privileged not only to have Stella, Mitch, Stanley and Blanche in my office, but to be allowed into their private and desperate worlds. I hope I was helpful, although, as I recall, the prognosis was grim."