Queer ‘Desire’: New ‘Streetcar’ features trans actor as female lead

Queer ‘Desire’: New ‘Streetcar’ features trans actor as female lead
Can’t you hear me yell-a: A new production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” features genderqueer actor Russell Peck, right, in the role of Blanche DuBois.
Rosie Soko

After all, a woman’s charm is 50 percent illusion.

A new production of the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” opening in Crown Heights on May 7, puts a spotlight on the play’s gender roles by casting a genderqueer actor as troubled female protagonist Blanche DuBois. Actor Russell Peck has long identified with Blanche’s complex character and fight for love, they said.

“As young queer people, we’re often drawn to characters that are a little damaged,” said Peck, who lives in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. “I definitely saw a lot of myself in her and her struggle to find love.”

The drama, written in 1947, recounts the tragic downfall of Blanche, who leaves her home in Mississippi to stay with her pregnant sister, Stella Kowalski, in New Orleans. The delicate character, who famously “depends on the kindness of strangers” soon clashes with her sister’s brutish husband Stanley. Blanche and Stanley each exemplify a certain very traditional gender role, said Peck, which makes them fascinating foils.

“From the moment they meet, Blanche and Stanley are kind of these polar opposite forces: he’s kind of written as this archetype of a blue-collar alpha male who asserts his masculine energy, and Blanche is painted as the opposite — she’s very soft, feminine, privileged, and delicate,” said Peck. “Blanche brings out things in Stanley that he is not used to dealing with, and he also kind of awakens this beast in Blanche as well.”

Peck felt a connection to Blanche ever since studying Williams in college, and they brought a passion to interrogate the roles that gender plays in the show, according to the director.

“They have been the engine of this production from the beginning, and the source of all of the initial artistic impulses that have come through,” said Kevin Hourigan.

Hourigan and the cast had to secure permission from the Williams estate to stage this production, and the play is faithful to the playwright’s original text. But the non-traditional casting highlights how gender dictates the power dynamics among the characters, the director said.

“We’re not trying to deconstruct gender as much as hold it up to the light and examine how it’s working,” he said.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” at Mister Rogers (231 Rogers Ave. between President and Union streets in Crown Heights, www.wearemisterrogers.com). May 7–25, Tue–Sat at 8 p.m., May 19 at 2 p.m. $30 ($35 for reserved seating).

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.

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