The Greenbelt Arts Center's current production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" keeps it simple. There's no gimmick; it allows the actors to do their work with a text that gives them plenty of opportunity to explore characters and relationships.
The approach pays off for the small theater. What can be a play intimidatingly--or pretentiously--full of Grand Themes such as the tension between fantasy and reality, set in a far-off time and in a hothouse New Orleans setting dripping with symbolism, instead starts off as a basic story that feels contemporary: An annoying relative comes to visit at an inconvenient time, when there's not a lot of money or space in the house to spare. She dresses a little too provocatively, she flirts with your husband and his friends, she's got a substance abuse problem--and she's got a way of making you feel a little guilty.
There's bound to be a blowup, and someone--maybe everyone--is going to get hurt. You can picture these folks heading off to Bennigan's or TGI Friday's to belt a few, or playing poker with "The Jerry Springer Show" or "Baywatch" reruns blasting away in the background.
Anchoring the production is a comfortable, unaffected performance by Morgan Klug as Stella. Her matter-of-fact delivery contrasts with the eloquence of her reactions--often she's the one you watch, even when the other characters are shouting Tennessee Williams's poetry.
The latter job belongs to Sheilah Crossley-Cox as Blanche, and sometimes it's a thankless task. She makes it work by bringing out the intelligence and humor that flash through Blanche's histrionics. You get glimpses of the whole and healthy, perceptive person Blanche could have been, and that makes her disintegration more poignant. Crossley-Cox puts her gangly, rangy presence to good use: One minute she's flapping around like a comic Olive Oyl, the next she's flopping like a rag doll that's losing its stuffing.
Chris Zanardi as Stanley is the opposite--even though he sometimes rushes his lines, he's more convincing when he's verbally baiting Blanche than when he's doing the requisite slamming and bellowing. It's a tough job for any young man to play Stanley nowadays--while there's still plenty of macho violence in the world, it would go against every instinct of most men born after 1970 to express it as casually as this character does.
In the small role of Eunice, Karen Dugard makes a big impression, especially in the last scene, for the same reason the production does--she keeps it simple.
Director Randy Barth writes in his program notes that he didn't want to "bend [the play] to a brand-new interpretation," and so he retains its Deep South setting and its multiplicity of Louisiana accents. But it wouldn't necessarily have compromised the production if the actors used their own accents and abandoned any attempt at Southern ones--and the dialogue might have flowed better if they had.
The production's set design, by Mary Seng and Bob Thompson, and props, by Carolyn Cornelius, are so authentic they're almost distracting, from the painted backdrop right down to the tear in the plastic upholstery of a kitchen chair.
"A Streetcar Named Desire" performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 9 at the Greenbelt Arts Center, 123 Centerway Rd., Greenbelt. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students. For reservations, call 301-441-8770.
CAPTION: Morgan Klug, left, Sheilah Crossley-Cox and Chris Zanardi perform in "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Greenbelt Arts Center.