Novid Parsi’s Through the Elevated Line is a slavish update of a masterpiece | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Novid Parsi’s Through the Elevated Line is a slavish update of a masterpiece 

But A Streetcar Named Desire deserves better.

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Airan Wright

Through the Elevated Line honors Tennessee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire," writes Silk Road Rising artistic director Jamil Khoury in a program note, "yet it was never intended to be an adaptation." Well, intended or not, an adaptation is what the thing's turned out to be—to its great detriment. Novid Parsi's new play so slavishly mimics each plot point and set piece in Streetcar that if you're at all familiar with Williams's 1947 masterwork you find yourself spending its 135-minute running time just counting up the equivalences.

Parsi has a noble use for Streetcar, which is to take Williams's classic tale of Blanche DuBois, ruined southern belle, and update it for our present, brutish moment. His Blanche is Razi, a fey 27-year-old carrying a triple whammy of Otherness: he's Muslim, Iranian, and gay. Razi's experience is meant to speak to real-world horrors, but the overloud echo of Belle Reve drowns it out.

Like Blanche, Razi's burned his bridges, having lost the family home, squandered the family fortune, and acquired a reputation as a sexual outlaw. Like Blanche, too, he's moved in with his pregnant sister—Stella in the original, Soraya here—who's married a coarse, beer-guzzling American plebe in a T-shirt because the guy makes her colored lights go 'round. And like Blanche, he runs afoul of said plebe—Stanley Kowalski, of course, in the original, Chuck here—in a struggle for love and territory.

But that's not all. Blanche has lost her one and only. So has Razi. She seeks solace in alcohol and promiscuous sex while cherishing a woozy romantic ideal. So does he. She's got a fetish for low lights. Him, too. He even takes lots of baths like she does.

Yet still that's not all. Parsi's homage extends to putting new spins on subsidiary scenes from Streetcar. Most egregiously, where (in one of the most delicate passages in any play ever) Blanche kisses a young man who's come to the door collecting for the Evening Star newspaper, Razi allows himself to be seduced by a construction worker who tells him, "Blow me, señor." Now I'm going to have to live with the memory of that line the rest of my life.

The one element Through the Elevated Line lacks of Streetcar is a growing sense of dread over Razi's fate. Director Carin Silkaitis never finds a way to bring urgency to the inevitability that he'll end up much as Blanche does. But then Silkaitis never achieves the more basic goal of establishing the physical space, either. Late in the show, we find Chuck eavesdropping on Razi and Soraya; exactly where he's supposed to be and how he manages to hear them through what I could've sworn was an outside wall is a mystery.   v

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