True Blood fans won’t have to wait long for a glimpse of Joe Manganiello’s bare chest in Yale Repertory Theatre’s A Streetcar Named Desire, running through Oct. 12 at the University Theatre in New Haven, Conn. As a sweaty Stanley Kowalski, TV’s hunkiest werewolf peels off his shirt in the first scene — per Tennessee Williams’ stage directions. Let’s just say that oversensitive Southern belle Blanche DuBois (played by René Augesen) isn’t the only one swooning and sighing audibly.
This isn’t Manganiello’s first turn as Stanley, and one suspects it won’t be his last. (It would be a shame to waste that impressive ”STELLLAHHHHH!” scream.) There’s no denying he has a certain, ahem, animal magnetism. But he could use a little roughing up. Clean-shaven and clean-cut, with hardly a hair out of place, Manganiello isn’t entirely convincing as the beer-and-bowling-alley-loving brute — or as a drunken beast who regularly knocks around his hopelessly devoted wife, Stella (Sarah Sokolovic).
But that’s only one small bump in this rather rocky Streetcar. The biggest hitch is its Blanche, Stella’s sister who lives in a candle-lit haze of liquor and memories. Blanche is steeped in melodrama and sentimentality, yet Augesen turns in an oddly sensible performance. The actress is delicate of build, but her Blanche is never convincingly fragile. Worse yet, there’s simply no chemistry between her and Manganiello. Have they really had a date with each other from the beginning?
When Sokolovic is on stage, however, director Mark Rucker’s entire production revs up. She’s the first Stella I didn’t want to slap when she goes back to Stanley after his poker-night smack-a-thon. A Streetcar with Stella at the wheel?it could work. But only with a first-rate Blanche by her side. C+
(Tickets: YaleRep.org or 203-432-1234)