A Streetcar Named Desire, Black Ensemble Theater.

There’s room to spare on Tennessee Williams’s busy streetcar: the Black Ensemble’s revival makes a smooth vehicle for artistic director Jackie Taylor. Blanche is a woman who’s known no kindness from strangers–and, what’s much less expected, has known plenty of cruelty from her kind–and Taylor makes her vibrantly disturbed. Pitted against E. Milton Wheeler’s vengeful Stanley Kowalski, she seems doomed from the start.

Where they don’t attract, opposites destroy. Pursuing that tack, director Marlene Zuccaro focuses more on power than passion. Taylor’s Blanche, her hands fitfully moving as if they’ve split from her body, seems cut off from hope as well as from all around her; stripping her of her last delusions, Stanley just completes the job.

In this direct, emotionally uncompromising staging, Blanche seems to be punished especially hard for her pretensions, as if her vulnerability lay in having denied her past and her people. It’s an intriguing take: though it robs Blanche of some of the usual sympathy, it makes the speech where she dismisses Stanley as a brute especially cutting. As Stanley overhears this terrible attack on his character, Wheeler registers crushing anguish; Blanche has hurt him so badly he must break her or admit she’s right. As practical Stella, Tina Marie Wright offers a down-to-earth contrast to Taylor’s intense sufferer; but in the last scene, when the guilt-ridden sister forces Blanche into an institution, Wright fails to suggest that Stella has any inkling of Stanley’s part in the horror. The live score, by Jimmy Tillman and John Richardson, produces instant atmosphere.