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This `Streetcar' offers bumpy ride to familiar theatrical territory

A Streetcar Named Desire Play by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Nikos Psacharopoulos. Starring Blythe Danner, Aidan Quinn, Frances McDormand, Frank Converse. Blythe Danner portrays Tennessee Williams's most fragile tragic heroine in the Broadway Circle in the Square revival of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning ``A Streetcar Named Desire.'' Under the direction of Nikos Psacharopoulos, the archetypal work by the major American dramatist of his time has been mounted with a sense of sustained tension and due regard for its comedy as well as its pathos.

From the moment she makes her uncertain and unbelieving way into the ``Elysian Fields'' to which local streetcars have transported her, Miss Danner's Blanche personifies the deceptively fragile Southern gentlewoman. Trapped as much by her behavior, fantasies, and fabrications as by her economic reverses, Blanche has come from Laurel, Miss., to New Orleans to seek refuge in the home of her married sister Stella Kowalski (Frances McDormand).

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Blanche recoils in horror and dismay from the run-down premises to which the more placid Stella has become happily accustomed. Far from wanting to be rescued from a domestic situation centered on Polish-American Stanley (Aidan Quinn), Stella is prepared to endure Stanley's occasional rough treatment in return for the joys of her marriage.

Miss Danner re-creates Blanche's journey into the fateful maze with all the ladylike decorum that belies her desperate state. Here are the delicate affectations, the belle-of-the-ball flirtatiousness, the memories, fantasies, and lies with which Blanche fortifies herself against a hostile world. And none more hostile than Stanley himself. His suspicions, once confirmed, lead to the confrontation and rape that finally drive Blanche over the edge into madness.

While not without its strengths of emotion and theatricality, the revival proceeds somewhat unevenly. In adapting itself to the Circle in the Square's awkward thrust stage, the see-through, two-story setting by John Conklin (moodily lighted by Curt Ostermann) seems to lack a dominant focal point. For whatever reason, Miss Danner was not always audible in at least one section of the playhouse.

Mr. Quinn's bullying Stanley is so aggressively mean-spirited (even with his poker-playing cronies) that one finds his moments of contrition and anguish difficult to accept. Frank Converse gives a winning performance as the diffident Harold Mitchell (Mitch) who, until Stanley discloses the lurid behavior that got Blanche expelled from Laurel, might have been her yearned-for gentleman caller.

Miss McDormand endows sister Stella (``for star'') with amiable good humor and kindheartedness. She and Miss Danner achieve the sense of sibling affection that typifies Williams's tenderness with family relationships.

Linc Richards contributes the right note of innocence to the symbolic Young Collector who presents Blanche with a resisted temptation.

The cast as a whole conveys the jostling humanity of this New Orleans quarter. The ensemble includes the occasional flower vendors and the strolling Sax Player (Seldon Powell), whose melancholy riffs are part of Michael O'Flaherty's incidental music. The Jess Goldstein costumes feature a Blanche wardrobe that ranges from crisp white suit to faded finery and a treasure chest of costume jewelry.

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