SAN FRANCISCO — Ogie Zulueta plays the male lead, Stanley, in Ubuntu Theatre’s staging of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” running at Alice Collective until Feb. 25.
Written by Tennessee Williams, the play is about Blanche, who, having lost her finances, moves in with her sister, Stella, and clashes brother-in-law, Stanley. Envy, secrets, rumors and revelations lead the trio to clash violently.
Zulueta plays opposite Ubuntu’s associate artistic director Lisa Ramirez, who essays the role of Blanche, and Sarita Ocon, who plays Stella.
The first thing Zulueta did to prepare for this role was to stay away from the classic 1951 film version of the play starring Marlon Brando (Don Vito Corleone in “The Godfather”) as Stanley.
Partly because the film shifted the focus to the Stanley character. “The stage script delves into Blanche’s past in more detail that makes her a richer character on stage,” he says.
And partly because the film version casts an indelible shadow on the play. “Those performances were legendary, and Brando’s was considered groundbreaking.”
So how can a current staging of this material written in 1947 strive to have its own interpretation?
To begin with, this staging employs a cast of diverse backgrounds to fill the characters, “which is Ubuntu Theatre Project’s mission,” he says. (On the page, the sisters are of French heritage and Stanley is of Polish heritage.)
“This is not your grandmother’s ‘Streetcar’ for sure,” he adds.
“Our director, Emilie Whelan, has a very muscular vision for this play, setting it on a bare stage surrounded by the audience.”
“All my preparation for the role came during the rehearsal process,” he says.
For assault scenes, the cast rehearsed under Dave Maier. “He’s one of the best fight choreographers in the business. In stage fights, he always stressed the story we’re telling and worked off of the actors’ instincts to craft the best and safest way to tell the story through the fights and assaults.”
Given the current #MeToo movement and increased awareness of abuse and power inequality against women, how did he flesh out the role of an abusive, violent man?
“We were all aware that the type of male Stanley is in this play is one who is not always popular today. But these males do exist.
“We wanted to stay true to what Tennessee Williams laid out in his beautiful, poetic and savage script. And acknowledge the more complex and difficult question of what it means to be a man.
“Williams did not write Stanley him to be a one-dimensional caveman. Williams was perhaps also pondering this question what it means to be a man.”
“I’m hoping audiences take home a different version of the play. So far, our audiences have been very open to our take on this iconic American classic. And our production is also what America looks like,” he says.
Zulueta’s rendering of the character has received praise. The San Francisco Chronicle notes his ability to imbue his character with unpredictability and building up Stanley’s jocularity to contrast with “something sinister.” The Daily Californian describes his work as “exceptional” and “remarkable.”
For his work in Ubuntu’s “Rashomon” (an adaptation by Japanese American playwright and director Philip Kan Gotanda) last year, Zulueta has been named as a nominee for Best Principal Actor in a Play in a Theater with 100–300 Seats in the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Excellence in Theatre Awards for 2017. The award recipients will be announced and presented in March.
In June later this year, Zulueta will be performing in Ferocious Lotus Theater’s staging of Leah Nanako Winkler’s “Two Mile Hollow.”
“A Streetcar Named Desire” runs until Feb. 25 at Alice Collective, 272 14th St., Oakland, California. Visit Ubuntutheaterproject.com.
READ about Ogie Zulueta’s work in the 2016 staging of “Dogeaters” here.
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