Stella!

Madison Johnston ’14, shown here at left, plays Stella, with Vanessa Theus, a senior theatre major from Beloit, Wisc., as Blanche DuBois, and junior Christopher Morriss from Allendale, N.J., as Stanley Kowalski. The entire cast is being lauded for their performances, combining luminous fragility with edgy desperation, brutal physicality, and a surprising sense of humor in this moving production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

The Department of Theatre debuted its first production of the year, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, this past weekend, and audiences have responded with thunderous applause, teary eyes, and standing ovations.

Choosing to bring the streets of New Orleans to Granville was a change for the theatre department.

Mark Seamon, assistant professor of theatre and director of Streetcar, said he researched the plays Denison has performed in recent history and discovered that they hadn’t done an American classic—a play by Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, and other greats of the American theatre—in 20 years or so.

“It was time,” Seamon said, citing two main reasons. “One, it presents great opportunities for theatre artists—actors, directors, designers, and technicians alike. Two, it’s a fascinating and compelling story that audiences will thoroughly enjoy being drawn into.”

Vail artists-in-residence Julia Guichard and Chad Weddle also were able to assist with the performance. Guichard is a vocal dialect coach and is the associate chair of theatre at Miami University of Ohio. Weddle is a fight choreographer and is no stranger to the Hill. He choreographed fights for Dead Man’s Cell Phone and Legacy of Light.

Seamon described Streetcar as “dramatic storytelling at its very best.”

“What I love about the play is what makes it so challenging to produce: it runs us through an emotional wringer.” he said. “As director and audience member, I’m equally drawn to the play’s scenes of emotional intensity and violence on one end of the spectrum, as I am to its delicate moments of quiet and tenderness on the other.”

From left, John Hewson ’13, Vanessa Theus ’13, Pearson Handley ’14, Christopher Morriss ’14, and Aaron Robertson ’16

Seamon acknowledged that without the hard work of many students, the production couldn’t have come to life.

“Seniors Laura Hoffman (scenic designer) and Elyse Dolan (assistant director & sound designer) and I have been working together since last spring, and they have done incredible work.” he said. Both students are majoring in theatre and are involved in DITA (Denison Independent Theatre Association).

Dolan described working with Seamon as the highlight of her experience.

“I think of him as my mentor and friend, and I knew that working alongside him on Streetcar would be a great continuation of my directing education. His passion for creating theatre and drive for excellence inspires me, in this process and beyond.” she said.

Dolan found Streetcar to be challenging from a director and sound designer’s standpoint.

“From a directing perspective, many of the challenges were finding ways to make the blocking fluid and natural but still aesthetically interesting.” she said, “From a sound designer’s perspective, my biggest challenge was finding music appropriate to end the more intense scenes while still remaining true to the mid-century New Orleans jazz sound.”

One of the lead roles was given to a theatre newcomer Maddie Johnston, a junior environmental studies and biology double major from Chesterfield, Mo., who makes her debut as Stella Kowalski.

She auditioned for Streetcar because it was her favorite play growing up. “I was honored, really, that the theatre department considered me for such an iconic and well-known character,” she said.

Johnston described one of the major challenges she has faced is Stella’s tolerance for Stanley.

“It is so hard to play such a submissive character when someone treats you that badly,” she said.

Experienced thespian Meghan Callahan of Denver, Colo., took on the role of Eunice Hubbell, who is Stella’s caring neighbor and is also domestically abused by her husband. Callahan is a junior majoring in English and minoring in theatre and art. She is a member of both Burpee’s Seedy Theatrical Company and the new comedy group, Sketch’rs.

She said, “It was a whole different kind of animal playing a character who is abused. But I loved the challenge the role presented.”

Domestic violence is an undeniably major part of the play. Seamon and Dolan talked to all of the actors a lot about the role of violence in the show. They wanted the production to be believable and not make light of serious issues, while still staying true to Williams’ emotional complexities in the script.

“The truth is, real life can be sad and violent and funny all at once, and Streetcar explores all of that. People in the play aren’t simply good or bad–they are products of time, place, how they were raised, etc.” Callahan said, “The audience really has to draw their own conclusions about the level of each character’s morality.” Streetcar not only forces viewers to think about characters three dimensionally, but also to think about domestic abuse.

Overall, the gripping storyline from Tennessee Williams plus passionate performances equals a must-see event. And it’s not too late—you can still catch the play nightly at 8 p.m. through Thursday, October 11, in Ace Morgan Theatre on West College. For ticket info, call the theatre box office at 740-587-6527.

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