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`Streetcar' actors fight against distractions

Now that "Streetcar" has been canonized as an American classic, only members of the academy argue about its faults. For the general public, the play is above revision. And the best a theater company can do is stamp the play with its imprint.

And in this Charles Morey directed version, that is what Pioneer Theatre Company does: Joyce Cohen in the lead, lavish sets, provocative lighting and quality performances from supporting roles.It was Ariel Ballif who perfected PMT's penchant for "more is more" set design. And James Wolk follows suit here, creating a multi-layered, multi-level inner city that is wonderful to distraction.

Often literally.

Like the junkyard in "Cats," the set often becomes the focus, forcing this little pressure-cooker drama to struggle to keep up a head of steam.

And though the cast works hard, it spends a good deal of time surmounting obstacles.

As Blanche, for example, Cohen must constantly play against her baby-doll looks. In the big scenes she does summon frailty and despair, though in smaller moments a flighty, precious quality lowers her ther-mo-stat.

Mark Elliot Wilson is suitably coarse and low as Stanley, though he's often more obnoxious than threatening. But if Cohen must push against her cuteness, Wilson has the tougher task. He must push against Marlon Brando - the actor who may have given the definitive version of the char-ac-ter.

Wilson plays hard against that image. And at times - either by design or serendipity - he flickers with a boyish confusion that is refreshing. Still, Stanley's fate has been set in lead by playwright Williams and the inevitable need for control leads him to the inevitable rape.

Yet Wilson's personality leaves one wondering if the "desire" of the title may not be a desire to escape one's inner demons.

As often happens with PMT, much of the pathos and strength come from the character roles, with Bryan Hicks, Saidah Arrika Ekulona and Jayne Luke doing the heavy lifting.

But in the end, the heart of the play - and heart of this production - will always be Stanley's wife, Stella, played here by Amy Tribbey.

As an actress, Tribbey finds a dozen facets to Stella. She strikes sparks one moment, gives off a warm glow the next.

In short, if any colored lights are to be found in this production, they come from her.