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A heart's Desire

Just to recap an American classic: Blanche DuBois, of wealthy French descent, comes to stay with her sister, Stella, in cosmopolitan New Orleans, where Stella lives in a small, dilapidated apartment with her husband, Stanley Kowalski, from a poor Polish family. Blanche comes because she has "lost" the family home in Mississippi, and because she has been driven out of town after various sexual indiscretions. She manages to suppress the latter fact until Stanley, sick of her condescending presence under cramped conditions and jealous of her bond with his wife, goes snooping into her background.

Normally, Blanche's survival mechanism is her ability to self-delude - she is an alcoholic who claims she hardly touches booze, a shelved woman who claims to have millionaire suitors, a bankrupt who dresses like a queen, and a moth convinced of the healing power of the male flame. But her eventual rape by Stanley obliterates her fragile hold on reality.

For all of which Tennessee Williams won a Pulitzer Prize and the Western psyche gained a couple of prototypes.

Director Jef Hall-Flavin, after whose name the Fortune's marketers have taken to writing a reverential "(USA)", has returned to Dunedin to bring us A Streetcar Named Desire after his success with The Clean House last year.

His is an interesting and innovative production. Although some in the audience heard what they called "inconsistent" southern United States accents from the cast, I heard Kiwi accents delivered with a southern US inflection, perhaps as part of an effort to locate the play in a sort of New Zealand/Orleans parallel universe.

The ethnic blend of the original - Polacks, Latinos, Negroes, and miscellaneous other whites - has through purposeful casting become a more familiar Maori, Pacific and Pakeha mix. Hall-Flavin (USA) has encouraged some fresh takes on A Streetcar's central characters.

Jude Gibson's Blanche is so compelling, it seems rude to mention Vivien Leigh. Rude but inevitable, so: whereas Leigh's silverscreen Blanche was a little like a driverless tram gliding towards a wreck, Gibson's stage Blanche is more of a tram bound for disaster because it's driven by an unstable drunk. Tapping the reality of alcoholism, Gibson's creation veers pitifully - but dynamically - between pride and despair.

Jarod Rawiri's Stanley is an unrelentingly nasty fellow, yet capable of eliciting audience sympathy. "Stellaaa!", played by Jacqueline Nairn, is convincingly torn between her man and her sis, and is suitably sexually charged. Fine supporting turns include a likeably bawdy Eunice from Carol Smith.

Talk about paper-thin walls - in Peter King's evocative, ramshackle set, some are made of gauze, enabling us to see right through to the life on the street outside the home: here, everyone knows everyone else's seedy business.

Don't miss this chance to see some seriously powerful theatre.