Jonathan Mandell, The Faster Times: There are two main aesthetic reasons I can think of to justify Mann’s reinterpretation of “A Streetcar Named Desire” through multi-racial casting – – to have the audience look at a classic work in a fresh light, thereby adding to our understanding of it; and to give us the chance to see great actors in roles normally closed to them. The director clearly achieves the first aim. She is only partially successful in the second.
Michael Musto, Village Voice: In all of its shades, Emily Mann's production mines the rich humor in the play (yes, Williams wanted you to laugh a lot) while also going for a grounded, conversational approach that avoids hokey mannerisms...Mann takes [the cast] (and Daphne Rubin-Vega as the conflicted Stella and Wood Harris as the disillusioned Mitch) through a Streetcar whose straightforward approach deprives us of a central battle royale but whose admirable affection for the text still merits the kindness of strangers.
Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: But you want to know about Underwood, and why not? It’s not as though Brando himself didn’t distinguish Stanley as an icon of brute sexual charisma, and on that score Underwood certainly delivers the goods. Just listen to the gasps and sighs emanating from the audience when he strips to an undershirt or less.
Robert Feldberg, The Record: There's little poignancy in the performance. When Blanche goes crackers at the end, it seems to come out of nowhere, rather than being the inevitable result of a long slide. [...] Blair Underwood, another performer from films and TV who is normally a sensitive actor, overdoes Stanley's macho-ness to the point of excluding any other qualities.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: But Stanley also needs to have a feral charm and a touch of insecure neediness — otherwise, it’s hard to see why he’d feel threatened by Blanche, or why Stella would stay with this wife-beater in wife-beaters. Unfortunately, Underwood sticks to one note, and that’s brutish. Even then, it often feels as if we’re watching a fundamentally nice actor baring his teeth — and his chest — to look mean. Stanley’s rage at the world doesn’t come from deep inside.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: It's telling that Blanche DuBois, one of the most famous neurotics in American literature, sometimes comes across as the least hysterical person on stage — or maybe just the least aggressive in her hysteria. As summoned by director Emily Mann, whom Williams befriended and worked with late in his life, the French Quarter, where Blanche visits her sister, Stella, is a raucous place, with people forever laughing or fighting, making love, or stomping and whining in agitation.
Linda Winer, Newsday: Of all the plays currently not begging to be revived in New York, the oft-seen "A Streetcar Named Desire" must be near the top of the give-it-a-rest list. [...] But director Emily Mann and Stephen C. Byrd, the producer responsible for Broadway's 2008 all-black "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," have put together a solid, credible, more aggressive than poetic "Streetcar" starring Nicole Ari Parker as Blanche DuBois and a glistening-buff Blair Underwood as Stanley.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: But the main reason Mann's approach works is that Williams was writing about the temporal ebbs and flows of class and wealth, the appeal of fantasy and the pull to the bottom of raw sexual desire. Those themes are hardly race-bound. Nor should Williams' poetry be the province of white actors; at this juncture, this iconic American play should and can, like Shakespeare's masterworks, stand up to multiple styles and conceits.