Brownwood High School senior Josh Lawson isn’t an abuser of women.

But he plays one on the stage.

Lawson has not enjoyed portraying the violent and abusive Stanley Kowalski in the classic 1947 Tennessee Williams play, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” 

The high school’s theatre department performed the play under the direction of Shannon Lee in UIL one act play competition, and advanced as far as the regional level.

While the play did not advance to state competition, the students will perform it for the final time in a public performance at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is $5.

Lawson’s role as Kowalski required him to act abusive toward Kowalski’s wife, Stella, played by senior Heather Williams, and his sister-in-law Blanche, played by junior Jordan Roberts.

“I’ve played villains before, but nothing as real as this one has been,” Lawson said. “It’s usually just caricature-type people, but this show has really been interesting, how realistic it was and had to be. It was a rough start but I got to do it and it was a long run.

“It’s hard to portray such an accurate portrayal of a physical abuser and how to really get it just right. I just didn’t like doing it, because it kind of made me really  feel like I was hurting my friends. I despise people who are that in real life, so being as real as possible was real tolling on me.”

Lee, the director, said it’s important to note that the play is adult-themed, with elements including domestic abuse, sexual abuse and alcoholism, and is not suitable for children. Before the students ever performed the play in competition, Lee asked school principal Mitch Moore, parents and other community members to preview the play.

Lee said the play presents “an honest look at some ugly aspects of life.”

She described it as the most “Intense, difficult, most dramatic thing I’ve directed since I’ve been here, and it’s a classic that has incredible literary merit.”

When the students started learning the play, they couldn’t believe women would stay in abusive situations the way Stella Kowalski does, Lee said. The students learned to have empathy for victims of abuse, she said.

“It was harder on the young man playing the male lead — Josh Lawson — because that’s not who he is,” Lee said. “He did not, in the typical sense enjoy doing the play. He portrayed a monster.”

Lee said the show was hard on all of the male actors in the play.

In the one-act venue, the play was reduced from three acts to a 40-minute play of a single act, Lee said. 

“So you’re going to get rid of a lot of stuff,” Lee said. “The parts of the show that are hard to watch are the ones that are the most reflective of real life.” She referred to “the moment where Stanley gets angry and hits his wife, and how she reacts to that and how the people in their apartment complex react to that.

“Unfortunately in real life, sometimes after that happens, women come back,” Lee said. “We approached this play handling those situations as kindly and graciously and modestly that we can, and still tell the story.” 

Williams, the senior who plays Stella Kowalski, said it wasn’t fun pretending to be abused. “But it was, of course, up on stage,” Williams said. “It was acting. You had to portray it as real but obviously none of it was real.

“It was really different and it was hard to get myself into the fact that, ‘oh you have to be beaten, you have to be thrown around,’ things like that. It’s not easy to ever pull off a show like this. You have to get into the right mindset. You have to be comfortable with what you’re doing. You have to realize it is a show and you’re not actually being hurt on stage.”

Williams said she thought it was hard for Lawson to play her abuser, “to  physically get into that character … you do have to be like, ‘it’s OK, you can do this, it’s not you.’ We had to reassure him a couple of times.”

Roberts explained elements of her character, Blanche, who “stirs up trouble. She likes the company of men. She and Stanley have this game they play back and forth, because Stanley has power and she wants power over Stanley. 

“Stuff goes on between those two, and it leads to one of the final scenes … she gets raped by Stanley. It was hard, because I’ve never played a character like this before. Having to wrap my mind around actually acting like I’m getting abused and getting raped, and having to scream bloody murder at the top of my lungs, was a hard concept to wrap my mind around. So it was a very hard thing to do.”

The students said they were nervous about how the play would be perceived, but none of the adults who previewed the play asked that any scenes be removed.

“It almost freaked them out with how close it was to being real life,” junior Shelby Wilson, the stage manager, said. “They told us that was so real and they’re all grabbing on the edge of their seat because it was so real.”

“It’s just really cool to have so many people support us like that. Miss Lee did an amazing job with just directing us in a way to educate so many people. “Everyone was really anxious back stage when we first did (the play).”

Wilson said the students were asked earlier if the play was educational or entertaining. “We said ‘this is an educational show’ because some people may not be aware of these things that are happening,” Wilson said. “Ao when we were able to present this show, it was able to open the eyes, I feel like, of many people in our audience.”

Through the play, Wilson said, students learned “how to be a team and support each other, because it’s not an easy show. And so our emotions were all over the place.

“A lot of the times we were mentally and physically exhausted from the show, and we had to learn how to support each other as a team and be there as someone to lean on if they were struggling with it.”

Senior Hailey King said as the play progressed, the learned “this show isn’t just for us. This show is for people in the audience, the people who through their lives have been abused … it was really interesting watching everybody come to a realization that this happens. This happens a lot.” 

Junior Caitlyn Tucker, who plays a pregnant vender, said there were 

“lot of tears from parents. They would come with us to every performance we’ve had over the season, and every time we got the same reaction of, ‘this is real, and it’s well done.’