(Alexis Soloski’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/25; Photo: Carla Gugino, left, and Audra McDonald planned to share a stage this summer in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” but ended up recording their roles from closets in their homes.Credit…Devin Oktar Yalkin for The New York Times; via Pam Green.)
Williamstown Theater Festival’s summer season is now a winter experiment, all on audio. That includes “A Streetcar Named Desire,” recorded in actor’s closets.
A little over a year ago, the director Robert O’Hara and Mandy Greenfield, the artistic director of the Williamstown Theater Festival, phoned Audra McDonald with a proposition. They wanted her to play Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” McDonald, a six-time Tony-winning actress, hesitated. The role frightened her. “It’s a recipe for disaster and failure,” she said.
And that was before she met her co-star: a lawn mower.
McDonald accepted the role, and had a pandemic not intervened, her “Streetcar” would have opened in June. But when Greenfield realized that this summer’s festival, a proving ground for new plays and a holiday camp for celebrity actors, could not go forward as scheduled, she reached out to Kate Navin, a producer with Audible, the Amazon-owned audiobook powerhouse.
Together they dreamed up a grand plan, which they announced in early April: They would create an acoustic record of a summer that wasn’t, producing deluxe recordings of each show that the festival had announced for 2020 and releasing all of them on Audible.
Which explains, mostly, why McDonald spent two days in late August huddled inside a closet, recording Blanche’s anguish while a neighbor’s mower revved and a dog barked and her toddler daughter shrieked “No, I don’t want to!” just outside the door.
“It was a very wild way of trying to dive in and fall into one of the most iconic female roles in the history of theater,” McDonald said.
Beginning on Dec. 3 with “Streetcar,” Audible will release seven shows, one per week, more or less. The later releases: Anna Ziegler’s “Photograph 51,” Dominique Morisseau’s “Paradise Blue” and the world premieres of Stacy Osei-Kuffour’s “Animals,” Shakina Nayfack’s “Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club,” Sanaz Toossi’s “Wish You Were Here” and Daniel Goldstein and Dawn Landes’s musical “Row.”