It's curious how a director can tinker with some dead playwrights (Shakespeare) but not others (Tennessee Williams). That thought occurred while watching the seductive "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Los Angeles Art Theatre.
Darryl Shelly's direction captures that hothouse world of Elysian Fields with several moments of astonishing fidelity to the play. You won't easily see a more prepared cast or fall more willing victim to that muggy, sensual French Quarter atmosphere (set design by Thomas Brown).
Laurie Prang, with a great Southern accent and a finely tuned tremulous demeanor, is indisputably Blanche Dubois. Her paper lantern fragility and her breakdown at the end, viscerally staged, are evocative and powerful theater.
Richard Eden's Stanley Kowalski is certifiably a Williams primate but not merely brutish. His piercing "Stella!!!" may hang back there with the apes, but he flecks his role with survival instincts that aren't all reprehensible and he brings out the character's humor.
Surprisingly, just as impressive as either Prang and Eden, in a reserved, less showy and thus more difficult role, is Shannon Hile as Stanley's sweet-ordinary wife Stella. Even the production's most minor character, the quiet, aloha-shirted poker player Pablo Gonzales, with his back to the house, no less, is rendered with perfect pitch by Greg Farnese. Now that's emblematic of a strong show.
Which brings us to those brawling upstairs neighbors of the Kowalskis, Eunice and Steve Hubbell, and the earlier thought about how you can't fool around with a Williams play. The Hubbles are beautifully played by Niva Ruschell and Lance Nichols, but the production casts black actors. This is 1947, blue-collar New Orleans, and it's unlikely that blacks would run in and out of the Kowalski flat.
No sin, but a flaw in an otherwise almost flawless production.
At 11305 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m., through Oct. 14. $15. (818) 763-3101.