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Tennessee Williams' classic play garners discussion, controversy in Sandy

Though statistics say 1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, discussing the topic of sexual assault is still fairly taboo.

In a modernized production of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire," Sandy Actors Theatre brings the discussion of rape and domestic abuse into the light — stage light.

With simple additions like contemporary music and iPhones, director Jeffrey Puukka demonstrates the continuously relevant story arch of "Streetcar" in today's society. This modern production deftly depicts how the reaction to rape victims has never really changed in the years since the play opened on Broadway in 1947. The play also illuminates the different ways people confront the topic with the people in their lives.

The production choreographs the simultaneous goings-on in every room of Stella and Stanley's small New Orleans home, and on the porch and street outside their front door. The set design is ironic, with floating windows and empty door frames. The set is made without walls, yet the characters obviously have several emotional walls between each other.

This disconnect is expertly depicted by Lyra Butler-Denman (Blanche), Leila Villasenor (Stella) and Daniel Donlon (Stanley).

With most plays there's a bit of a warming period to start, during which the audience eases into the setting of the production and figures out who they empathize with from the characters.

"Streetcar" forces the audience to be a bit more reactionary. Within the first 30 minutes, Stanley has drunkenly bashed Stella's head into the refrigerator, and the theater-goers are thrown emotionally into the reaction of either disgust or empathy. Or both.

It's clear from the beginning that Stanley is an unlikeable fellow, even if it's not so clear to the other characters.

Donlon (Stanley) plays the part of the abuser to perfection. In an effort to make amends after he harms Stella (Villasenor), he comes home with neatly wrapped peace offerings. Blanche looks on at him through the doorway and he looks right back over his easily forgiving wife's shoulder. With one expression, Donlon (Stanley) perfectly lays his character's personality bare.

Butler-Denman (Blanche) and Villasenor (Stella) are every inch the estranged and polar opposite sisters. Though very different, both sisters exhibit a need to be understood and loved by the other, which war with their instincts to stick to the lives they know.

Though the play is known for its depiction of violence and instability, the production as acted out by SAT was very well balanced. No one actor upstaged the other, and the chemistry among the cast was palpable.

I'd recommend that anyone with a love for theater and/or appreciation for socially relevant art dispel any unease about Williams' work and see "A Streetcar Named Desire."

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