Most theater fans have formed pretty firm associations with Tennessee Williams’ iconic play and film, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” What then, will they make of EmSpace’s tinkering with the text through dance and chance in “A Hand in Desire”?
The production, premiering Friday at Viracocha’s intimate downstairs theater, utilizes one of the play’s running threads: the poker game.
Co-producers Erin Mei-Ling Stuart (director of EmSpace Dance) and theater director Wolfgang Lancelot Wachalovsky (yes, that’s his real name) throw in a deck full of options for each night’s performance.
The cards drawn by audience members will determine which of 52 different scenes will be performed. “The whole card game structure was a way of taking some directorial control away,” Stuart says. “Some scenes are played every night, but what else happens and how it’s going to play out will change.”
Considering the challenges thrown at them, Stuart has nothing but praise for the performers.
“Throughout the process they’ve been writing, creating movements and talking over the concepts,” she says.
“One of the dancers spoke about how she typically approaches a new piece by learning the form of the dance, telling herself, ‘OK here’s where I really need to breathe,’ and learning what comes next. We’ve just taken all of that away. I’m kind of in awe of them.”
Wachalovsky, recently assistant director for American Conservatory Theater’s “A Christmas Carol,” found the challenges greater for actors who had to learn dance moves than for dancers who had to speak.
“We established some transitions in and out of some scenes, but the rest is really up to them,” he says. “They are brilliant and can create on the fly.”
For his own preparation, Wachalovsky reviewed Williams’ recently released journals along with letters between Williams and Jessica Tandy, Broadway’s original Blanche Dubois.
One of Tandy’s letters involved a promotional photograph the theater wanted to use depicting her as a sex symbol. She refused to allow it.
“In the letter she explains what it would mean to play to progressively less sensitive audiences who were only coming for the sex,” Wachalovsky says. “She describes how there’s so much more to the character.”
Williams’ journals also revealed a man who was in a state of emotional overwhelm. “A lot of the sensitivities of Blanche are found in his notebooks,” he adds. “So we plotted some of those phrases and ideas and incorporated them in the play.”
For the chances taken alone, this “Hand” could draw a full house.
IF YOU GO
A Hand in Desire
Presented by EmSpace Dance
Where: Viracocha, 998 Valencia St. (at 21st Street), San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; closes Jan. 29
Contact: www.emspacedance.org/desire; www.brownpapertickets.com/event/134160