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'Streetcar Named Desire' rolls again - on TV

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Tennessee Williams's classic contemporary play, ''A Streetcar Named Desire,'' was a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama and an Academy Award-winning film. It has now become an interesting television movie.

''Streetcar'' was first produced on Broadway in 1947 with Jessica Tandy and Marlon Brando in the leads. In 1951, Brando and Vivien Leigh led the cast of the movie, a version often shown on television. Now the play is being revived as an ABC Theatre Presentation, with Ann-Margret and Treat Williams in the leads.

If one has not had the good fortune to see Tandy or Leigh, the performance by Ann-Margret in this version of A Streetcar Named Desire (Sunday, March 4, 9-11: 30 p.m.) may seem like a uniquely skillful interpretation of a compellingly vulnerable character. And the performance by Williams may seem like an expert portrait of loutish machismo.

Perhaps it is unfair to judge any actor against the memory of superb performances by Tandy, Leigh, and Brando. But the fact is that while ''Streetcar'' was unforgettable in the hands of those performers, it is merely an interesting try in the hands of Ann-Margret and Treat Williams - interesting but somehow lacking in the fire and passion that Tennessee Williams infused into this character study of the human search for loving relationships.

Williams's play remains as brilliantly poetic as ever, marshaling the forces of beauty and fantasy against the forces of ugliness and reality. Already an acknowledged modern classic, ''Streetcar'' delves into the forces of good and evil in society - exorcising some of the guilt, desire, and fear which partly motivate seemingly ordinary people.

Blanche, played with restrained distraction by Ann-Margret, is a fading beauty, pathetically hiding from reality in a fantasy world. She comes into the New Orleans household of her sister, Stella, a woman managing to make a life for herself in an imperfect reality. Stella is underplayed with simple sensitivity by Beverly D'Angelo.


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