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Tennessee Williams play runs through Nov. 19 at the Niemeyer Osterman Theatre, 19600 Molalla Ave., in Oregon City

Why did James Eikrem choose to direct "A Streetcar Named Desire" to kick off the theatrical season on Nov. 9 at Clackamas Community College?

For so many reasons.

PHOTO BY JENNIFER JETT - Rachel Polley and Sten Eikrem, as Stella and Stanley, share a tender moment."It's a tremendous work with a lot to offer for all involved. It's a timeless and timely play in its themes, and this is the 70th anniversary of the first production," Eikrem said.

He has many students "who are serious about acting and all aspects of theater, and Tennessee Williams' plays remain important for the study of acting as well as theater history."

"A Streetcar Named Desire," by Tennessee Williams runs through Nov. 19, at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. Sundays at the Niemeyer Osterman Theatre, 19600 Molalla Ave., in Oregon City.

Focus on women

As artistic director of CCC's Theatre Department, Eikrem usually chooses a theme for the plays he will direct in a calendar year. Last year's theme was American classic plays, and although all the plays this year also are by American authors, "we are focusing on plays about or by women," Eikrem said.

CCC's winter play will be "The Lost Boy," by Oregon Book Award Winner Sue Mach, a faculty member in CCC's English Department. The final production will be the exuberant musical "Wonderful Town," which has two female protagonists.

A key character in "A Streetcar Named Desire" is Blanche Dubois, who "is one of the all-time great roles for women. I think of it as the female 'Hamlet,' and, in fact, 'Streetcar' is very Shakespearean in many ways," Eikrem said.

He added that "Tennessee Williams was not only a great dramatist but a great poet. The action and language in his plays is fascinating, by turns heartbreaking and cruel. The tension can be excruciating."

The action in the play begins when fading southern belle Dubois moves into the New Orleans home of her sister, Stella.

She "has lost her family home and job, carries secrets from a painful past, and is financially and emotionally bankrupt," Eikrem said.

PHOTO BY JENNIFER JETT - Rachel Polley, as Stella, comforts her sister, played by Allison Andresen."As she strives for a new life of love and happiness, she ultimately finds tragedy at the hands of savage brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, which was the role that launched the movie career of Marlon Brando," he said.

Eikrem also noted that because of the play's themes of domestic conflict and abuse, representatives from Clackamas Women's Services will be on site to address those issues. A talk-back about domestic abuse will take place following the Nov. 11 performance.

Poetic language, challenges

"A Streetcar Named Desire" may not be an easy show to produce, but the rewards make it worth it, Eikrem said.

"The technical challenges are enormous: The set is astonishing and includes a spiral staircase to underscore the tension in the play. The period costumes are equally stunning, and this kind of material is increasingly rare for audiences to experience," he said.

As for why the play remains timely 70 years after it was written, Eikrem points to Williams's use of language and universal themes.

"The language is superlative. It is the way that I wish I spoke on an everyday basis, yet contains pearls of imagery and experience that transcend everyday speech," Eikrem said.

The play is "Shakespearean in the scope of its theatricality and character journeys. It is rich with life and never lets us forget our mortality."

He added, "Aristotle said that tragedy had the effect of purging pity and fear in its audience. ... I think 'Streetcar' has that potential."

Favorite scenes

Eikrem said audiences will marvel at all of the visual elements in "Streetcar," and he hopes they find a kind of enjoyment in Blanche's story.

"The play has quite a lot of humor in it, and I love the quote by Francis Ford Coppola, the famous director of 'The Godfather' in describing the play: 'Lyrical and poetic and human and heartbreaking and memorable and funny,'" Eikrem said.

He has two favorite scenes in the play, one when Dubois relates her tragic secret and another during a poker game in Act I.

"It has a lot of action and really sets up the major conflicts in the play. 'Poker Night' was also the working title of the play before Williams decided on 'A Streetcar Named Desire,'" Eikrem said.

"One more thing to say about what audiences will like about the show that is a no-brainer: seeing excellent work by our exceptional students."

Cast

The four-person cast includes Allison Andresen as Blanche Dubois, Rachel Polley as Stella, Billy McLendon as Mitch, and Sten Eikrem as Stanley.

Sten is Eikrem's son, who graduated last spring from the University of Michigan with a BFA in theater performance (acting).

"It is a rare privilege I have in being able to work with him on 'Streetcar.' He brings a lot of skill and experience to the show as Stanley," Eikrem said.

Jack, his other son, also has been active in the CCC theater department and will write the program notes for the play, Eikrem said, noting that Jack is currently finishing his bachelor's degree in creative writing at Marylhurst University.

Eikrem added, "I think it is pretty rare to have such opportunities to work with one's adult children, and I feel very blessed."

He also said he appreciates CCC for giving him "the opportunity to present this important work." Eikrem added, "Thank you to all of my colleagues in the theater program: Chris Whitten, Alva Bradford, Jennifer Jett and Alice Lewis for their above-and-beyond the call to commitment to the play and our program."

Stella! Stella!

What: The Clackamas Community College Theatre Department presents "A Streetcar Named Desire," directed by artistic director James Eikrem

When: Opening at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9; continuing through Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays

Where: Osterman Theatre in the Niemeyer Center, 19600 Molalla Ave., Oregon City

Cost: adults $11, seniors $9, $5 (or pay what you can at the door) students. Visit clackamas.edu/theatre or call 503-594-3153 for reservations.

More: Opening-night reception is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9 and includes refreshments and music provided by CCC's Jazz Combo under the direction of Music Department Chair Lars Campbell.

Details: "A Streetcar Named Desire" features scenery and lighting design by Christopher Whitten and costumes by Alva Bradford.

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