Within a few years after its Broadway opening in 1947, critics started calling Tennessee Williams' groundbreaking Pulitzer Prize-winning drama A Streetcar Named Desire the best play of the 20th century.
Nothing has come along since then to change anyone's mind.
Set in the steamy New Orleans French Quarter with assertive themes never before seen on Broadway — overt female sexuality, homosexuality, suicide, rape — the play employed a new dramatic form dubbed naturalism and a style called method acting.
Streetcar has been produced around the world, its major characters played by some of the biggest names in theater: Vivien Leigh, Blythe Danner, Claire Bloom, Jessica Tandy, Tallulah Bankhead, Alec Baldwin and, of course, Marlon Brando in his breakout role as the primal, brutish Stanley Kowalski.
On Thursday, Stage West Community Playhouse will bring this searing drama to its Main Stage for seven performances through Jan. 22.
"I like what I am seeing," director Dalton Benson said of his cast. "I am very pleased at how they were off book very early and now we're working on character development."
Benson had planned to have the entire cast under the age of 30, as Williams wrote the play. But when many more mature actors auditioned, he wound up with the lead roles being played by performers a decade or more older than that.
"I always go with the best actors for the role," Benson said. "You can work around age, and it's easier for older people to play younger people than younger people to play older ones. I'd rather have older, more experienced actors."
Streetcar is the story of the aging Southern belle Blanche DuBois (Angela Sarabia; Kay in Murder on the Nile), who leaves the deteriorating family plantation in Georgia and her teaching job "because of her nerves" and moves into a cramped New Orleans French Quarter apartment with her younger sister, Stella (Susan Nichols; Bella in Lost in Yonkers at Richey Suncoast Theatre) and Stella's husband, Stanley, (Jay Ingle; McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, for which he won a HAMI award).
The emotionally fragile Blanche is living in the past, when she was young and desirable, but the rough and coarse Stanley isn't impressed. Stella tries to run interference, but the insensitive Stanley doesn't go along.
Instead, he taunts and brutalizes Blanche, tearing away her self-protective lies and pretensions, sending her over the edge.
"The play rises and falls with (the actor playing) Blanche, and Angela has come a long way," Benson said. "It's an iconic role, a pivotal role," he said, mentioning that most people have probably seen the movie at least once and already have strong memories of the players who created not only Blanche and Stanley, but also Blanche's suitor, Mitch, and sister, Stella.
In the film version, Mitch was played by Karl Malden and Stella by Kim Hunter. In the Stage West version, newcomer Sam McCall plays Mitch, with Nichols as Stella.
"I hope people can forget them" and concentrate on the Stage West performers, much as they have for other shows with iconic characterizations.
"I tried to get back to what Tennessee Williams had written," Benson said of his directorial style.
The play is expected to run about two and a half hours, with one regular intermission and one short one. It is recommended for mature audiences only.