Laura Russell is a single mother who works as a secretary 40 hours a week. But, for the past six years, she has she has been acting in three or four plays per year. The upcoming Reston Community Players performance of "A Streetcar Named Desire" will be her fifth play in the past year.
"Theater is what I love," said Russell. "I’m sure you have something you have to do to make you a whole person. That’s what it is for me."
Russell is playing Blanche DuBois in the Tennessee Williams' play. "A Streetcar Named Desire" examines the relationship between three main characters: Stella Kowalski, Stella’s abusive husband Stanley and Blanche, Stella’s manipulative sister.
"She’s incredibly complex," Russell said of Blanche. "One of the biggest challenges is to make her sympathetic while also seeing all her faults. When she’s wrong, or not nice to people, you still have to care about her."
Russell originally tried out for the part of Stella, who is being played by Lee Hylton-Slivka, a seven-year member of the Reston Community Players.
"A lot of people think [Stella is] a doormat," said Hylton-Slivka. "I’m hoping to give her some more oomph without being combative. It’s tough to be caught between two people you love most, your husband and your sister."
<bt>Hylton-Slivka said one of the biggest challenges of the play was developing the correct on-stage chemistry between herself and Russell. The two had never met before working together on the play.
"People have to believe we are sisters," Hylton-Slivka said. "And we’ve clicked from the beginning. Darrin and I have clicked as well. But Stanley is not as complicated as Blanche. And Stella’s not too complicated either. The chemistry between a husband and wife is easier. Finding the chemistry of sisterhood is the bigger challenge to tackle. Also, it’s a little harder for me because I don’t have a sister."
Darrin Friedman, who is playing Stanley, said he had to work at finding the character inside him.
"It’s hard," Friedman said. "Stanley is the kind of person who doesn’t exist anymore. If I knew him I wouldn’t want to be friends with him. He’s a clear departure from my personal character. It’s very challenging, but very exciting."
Friedman said he learned about the show in August, and was excited about trying out. But, soon after he heard about the play, he had back surgery.
"I thought I would miss the auditions," Friedman said. "But right after I recovered from back surgery was the weekend of the auditions."
Friedman said he "really wanted" the part of Stanley, and he also said he was excited to be working Hylton-Slivka and Russell.
"These are people [in community theater] who may have acted their whole lives, but for whatever reason they decided that having a family or career was more important," Friedman said.
<mh>Challenge for Director
<bt>Andy Regiec, director of the show, started the actors out with some character exploration, improvisational exercises. At a recent rehearsal, two weeks away from opening night, the characters had their blocking and most of their lines memorized, and Regiec said he was starting to leave the actors alone, acting only as a pair of eyes in the audience.
He said one of his biggest challenges in directing "A Streetcar Named Desire" has been choosing the appropriate music.
"[The play is] set in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, in the 1940s," Regiec said. "So we did a lot of research to find the right song to get you out of one scene and into the next."
Regiec, who has a degree in directing, has directed four previous Reston Community Players performances. He said he chooses his plays carefully.
"There has to be some challenge, or it has to be a show I’ve always wanted to do," Regiec said. "Streetcar was one I wasn‘t going to touch with a 10-foot pole. It’s so big, there is so much. But I was attracted to the challenge of it. I said, ‘I think I can do it, let’s give it a shot."