HOW DOES one of the most iconic American plays fare in the Filipino tongue? It doesn’t work, apparently.

Showing the might of women in their Tagalog adaptation of the Pulitzer prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire proved to be no sweat for Tanghalang Pilipino, although the production still lacked some sparks.

Written by Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire depicts the clash between the worlds of fantasy and reality as personified by the conflict between the weak-nerved Belle Blanche DuBois, and her macho brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski. The conflict erupts after a penniless Blanche moved in with her sister, Stella, in New Orleans after their ancestral plantation was taken away from her.

Due to Blanche’s ostentatious display of glamour, Stella’s husband, Stanley, starts to investigate whether his sister-in-law is telling the truth about losing the Belle Reve or is just overtaken by her delusions of a fancy life. Aside from the demanding roles, a solid script crammed with memorable quotations has established Williams’ play.

Translated into Flores Para Los Muertos (Flowers for the Dead) by the late Thomasian writer Orlando Nadres, A Streetcar Named Desire has lost some of its magic in the translation, with famous lines such as “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” translated word-for-word into “palagi akong dumedepende sa kabutihan ng mga estranghero,” which sounds awkward. This literal translation lessens the punch of Williams’ original script.

Another threat the local adaptation faces is the high expectations of an audience whose perception of the material was formed by the famous 1951 film adaptation by Elia Kazan.

Potty, putrid politics

For her part, Thomasian Asian Studies alumna and award-winning actress Eula Valdes breathes into life the spirited and anxious character of Blanche; the bouncy and graceful disposition of her role was perfectly maintained, but toward the end of the play where the role calls for her to go on a silent breakdown, Valdes does exactly so but not without misplaced emotions.

Actor Neil Ryan Sese performs the sought-for role of Stanley Kowalski, but lacks the animal charm by Brando. As opposed to Brando’s overwhelming performance, Sese’s version is stifled showcase of machismo, a less intimidating presence on the stage.

Despite the shortcomings, the stage design works wonders to compensate for the play’s deficiency. The setting, a decrepit two-story building, seems to be directly lifted from the 1951 film. In the middle of the production, this splits into half to show an entirely different scenario with the help of the commendable lighting techniques, an effective transitional device.


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