A streetcar named “Desire” tours town, in advance of the Tennessee Williams Tribute’s theatrical production

August 8, 2009 9:23:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


The days when streetcars rumbled through Columbus'' city streets are long past. Their clanging rail-borne songs had faded away by 1917. But, for a nostalgic moment one recent afternoon, visions of a vintage trolley car reappeared in historic downtown, if only in miniature. 


This was no ordinary streetcar; it was "a streetcar named Desire"-- an uncannily realistic model of the original "Desire" immortalized by Tennessee Williams in his 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play set in New Orleans.  


The smaller version''s photographic pilgrimage through Columbus, the playwright''s city of birth, was thanks to Mississippi University for Women adjunct theater professor Brook Hanemann and professional photographer Chris Jenkins. The pair struck out on foot July 29 with the model, in search of downtown settings reminiscent of the Crescent City.  


Against backdrops such as Holly Hocks'' wrought iron balcony, the old river bridge and the Riverwalk, Chris -- who is also assistant director of public affairs at MUW -- and Brook enjoyed devising shots that would optically imply the 2-foot long streetcar is life-size.  


The results may be used in artwork promoting Second Line Production''s presentation of "A Streetcar Named Desire" during the Tennessee Williams Tribute and Tour of Victorian Homes in September.  


With Brook in the central role as "Blanche Dubois," the intense play directed by Rus Blackwell (who appeared in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") will run nightly Sept. 7-10 in Whitfield Hall''s Rent Auditorium on the MUW campus. A dress rehearsal the afternoon of Sept. 6 is being opened to students and seniors.  




A remarkable story 


The model streetcar itself was a treasured Christmas gift to Brook from her father this past December. Its tale is an amazing one. 


The intricate replica was crafted by Robert Himburg, an inmate serving time for burglary at the Rayburn Correctional Center in Angie, La. Instead of cracking safes, Robert uses his skills these days to make beautifully detailed models of ships, trains -- and now, streetcars.  


He was not allowed to use power tools on "Desire" and had only a stack of photos taken by Brook''s father, Danny Hanemann, to go by. Danny works at the correctional facility where Himburg is incarcerated.  


"My father had it commissioned for me last fall simply because I love Tennessee Williams and because I lobbied the university to allow me to teach a class of his works," Brook shared. "But the fun part is that while it was being constructed, I found out I''d be playing ''Blanche -- so that made the gift even more exciting for him; he could hardly wait until Christmas to give it to me!" 


"This is the most amazing piece of craftsmanship I have ever seen," Chris marveled. "The rivets on the outside are tiny drops of glue; there is even a folded-up newspaper lying on one of the seats, and tiny hydraulic lines under the wheels and working LED lights in the roof." 


With no access to a computer; the artist''s accuracy hinged on Brook''s father''s photographs. 


"He went down to New Orleans to take the pictures," explained Brook. "He even got on a streetcar and rode it and took photos." 




In the artist''s words 


"I''ve always been good with my hands," Robert said in an earlier interview with journalist Marcelle Hanemann, Brook''s mother. "But before, my life was about destruction. Now I restore and create. ... It blows my mind, still, to realize I can even do this." 


The project took about two months to complete in the prison workshop, where Robert was allowed four to six hours a day before and after his regular work as a prison electrician. He has since built other streetcar replicas, but "Desire" has been retired. 




Like father, like daughter 


For Brooks, her pivotal role as "Blanche" in the upcoming Tennessee Williams Tribute production brings the family full circle. 


"It''s pretty fun because the first play I was ever in was ''Streetcar.'' I was the flower girl, and my father played ''Stanley Kowalski''," she smiled. "He showed me a picture of him as ''Stanley'' just the other day." 


The model streetcar that embodies deep meaning for more than one Hanemann will be on display in the foyer at Whitfield Hall during the September performances. 


But in the meantime, Chris'' camera remains at the ready. There is still an important photograph to stage -- one of the storied strteetcar on Main Street, in front of the Welcome Center ... the late Tennessee''s very first home. 


It is, as they say, meant to be.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.