Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire is a classic for a reason - and it's understandable that many people are hesitant to take in an update of one of their most beloved favorites. Luckily, playwright Novid Parsi has updated the story masterfully in Silk Road Rising's current production of Through the Elevated Line.
Gone is New Orleans - we are now set in Uptown, Chicago. The streetcar has been swapped for the ever-running Red Line, and Blanche has been traded for a gay Iranian man. The plot points are largely the same throughout, but this works to the production's advantage. It is thrilling to see how each moment of Streetcar can be twisted for the modern day, in a melting-pot neighborhood filled with LGBTQI+ folks from all walks of life.
Parsi's script has moments that are both hilarious and devastating, and director Carin Silkaitis expertly makes each moment feel utterly natural. Catherine Dildilian (Soraya) is captivating, and Salar Ardebili (Razi) is heartbreaking - but it's Philip Winston's stunning performance as Sean, Razi's new romantic interest, that took my breath away. Whether the plot is familiar or not, Silk Road's production is certainly successful at making you care about everyone involved, and even most of the confounding choices made by characters are believable.
The set (designed by Joe Schermoly) is very open, allowing for sprawling staging from Silkaitis and her talented ensemble, and despite the lack of literal walls, the world is extremely clear. Elsa Hiltner's costumes are excellent, and the production is lifted by Jeffrey Levin's intimate sound design.
There is an undeniable growing sense of dread as the play moves towards its astonishing finale, and this feeling is made even more present thanks to how deeply sympathetic most of the characters are. The play runs over two hours but has the energy and immediacy of a play presented in one act. Among the most stellar moments of flipping the script, a tender moment from Streetcar is reimagined as a shocking verbal assault. While one audience member burst out laughing, most likely due to being uncomfortable, you could otherwise hear a pin drop. I was counting down the minutes until intermission would end and I'd get to see more of this world.
That's not to say the script was entirely perfect. In fact, in the hands of a less capable team, it may have been significantly less remarkable. Chuck (played by a rugged Joshua J. Vokers) narrowly escapes caricature territory, and a few of the homages to Streetcar are a bit overt. Additionally, the choice to cast one actor in multiple roles was a bit distracting. This is a common move used by storefront companies to save resources, but seeing such a familiar face in the actors' third and final role dampened the impact slightly. That being said, these are small complaints against the astonishing power of Silk Road Rising's production.
Through the Elevated Line is a masterful update of a masterpiece, a queer re-imagining featuring a diverse ensemble and a familiar setting. The dynamic production is equally accessible and devastating, and I will not soon forget Philip Winston's performance. Carin Silkaitis and her talented team at Silk Road Rising have put together something truly special.
Review by Jason Berger
Through the Elevated Line continues at The Chicago Temple through April 15. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in Theatre in Chicago's Review Round-Up.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this review listed an incorrect name for the playwright. Thanks to several readers for pointing out this mistake.
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