nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
October 29, 2006
There is no doubt that Todd D'Amour, the star of the new solo show Stanley (2006), is a very talented actor. He has sensitivity, charisma, intensity, authoritative command of his body and voice, a sense of humor, and fearless unpredictability. And, in Stanley (2006), he goes all out: running, jumping, raging, screaming, playing multiple roles, and generally putting himself through the ringer. It's a performance that could easily be viewed as a stunt, but Mr. D'Amour's strong technique and empathetic rapport with the audience keep him grounded and give him a convincing fullness. He never has any problem gaining or holding the crowd's attention.
But Lisa D'Amour's play does. In creating a vehicle for her talented brother, Ms. D'Amour has written work that seems to me so willfully obscure and hard to penetrate that it ends up being self-indulgent to the point of disaster. If there's a purpose to Stanley (2006) beyond promoting Mr. D'Amour's magnetism and skill, I don't know what it is.
According to Stanley's press release, the play is about a man who thinks he's Stanley Kowalski, the legendary antagonist from Tennessee Williams's classic drama, A Streetcar Named Desire. But, the play never gives the audience any indication of that. As written by Ms. D'Amour, and played by Mr. D'Amour, the character could very well be Stanley Kowalski himself—which might actually be a more interesting idea. The unnamed protagonist tells us about his search to find "her"—the "her" being Blanche DuBois, Streetcar's celebrated heroine. It seems that after Blanche's departure from his home, the man becomes so obsessed with her that his wife, Stella (Blanche's sister), leaves him. Relieved of his domestic responsibilities, the man embarks on a journey to find Blanche. Quite a bit of poetic justice for the man who raped Blanche for being too stuck-up: to have the object of his disdain get so under his skin that he can't live without her. That is, if the man were actually Stanley. But, according to Ms. D'Amour, he's not, which is ultimately less interesting, because it makes Stanley's protagonist look like a total nutjob. But, since the play never clearly states one way or another who its protagonist is (and, since most theatergoers won't have the press release on hand to help clarify things for them), I'm guessing most viewers will assume it is Kowalski himself.
There are some interesting moments here, most notably when the man recalls a scene between himself, Blanche, and Stella at a truckstop diner, playing all three parts (and oftentimes lapsing into an imitation of Marlon Brando: very confusing). But, Stanley is at its best whenever the man directly addresses the audience, quizzing them about their personal histories in an attempt to bond empathetically over past transgressions and obsessions. These are the parts in which Mr. D'Amour is also at his best, engaging the audience head on, sans fourth wall, having them answer questions like "How many of you have lost everything?" by a show of hands. In these moments, he creates a strong connection by inviting the audience into his confidence.
Eventually, though, Ms. D'Amour's narrative and directorial impenetrability win out, and audiences are left wondering about things like the man's need to be doused with water (three times, no less), and the show's unnecessary and overused video element: Stanley (2006) is so loaded with live and pre-recorded footage that it might make a better non-narrative short film.
But, theatergoers can thank whoever they like for being introduced to Mr. D'Amour. He is definitely someone to keep an eye on, and I look forward to seeing him wherever he turns up next.