Marissa Medina Munter is Blanche DuBois and Kasey Caruso is Stanley Kowalski in Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Ed Flores/

The brilliant, devastating “A Streetcar Named Desire” is not an easy play to watch.

But you want to watch Arizona Repertory Theatre’s powerful production of the Tennessee Williams drama.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning “Streetcar” has hit many stages and the silver screen since it first gave Marlon Brando his big Broadway break in 1947.

It’s had a long life because the writing is poetry and its story of desperation and delusion is timeless: Blanche DuBois has come to New Orleans’ French Quarter to stay with her sister Stella and her husband, Stanley, in their two-room apartment. She has lost the family estate, her reputation and her teaching job. And she is slowly losing her grip on reality. Stella adores her, Stanley does not. This does not end well.

Director Hank Stratton didn’t use any gimmicks in staging the play — he kept it in the late ’40s (Michael Cruz did an impressive job with the costumes) and did not twist it in order to be more relevant to today. It doesn’t need that.

What it needs is a brave cast willing to go to the dark places “Streetcar” takes them.

And oh, this production has that.

Marissa Medina Munter sunk into Blanche DuBois’ southern belle with rawness and honesty. The character isn’t very likable (there aren’t many likable ones in this play), but we can’t help but fall for her, and fear for her. She is a flirt, she is hungry for male companionship, she is cruel and convinced she is better than Stanley. But she is also painfully vulnerable, mentally unstable and so lonely. Munter embodied all of that. She made Blanche’s tragedy our tragedy.

Kasey Caruso’s brutish Stanley was explosive and, frankly, a jerk (thank the playwright for that). But when he yells “Stelll — aaa” up the stairs, begging his wife to come down after he has hit her, his fear and passion were palpable.

Vinessa Vidotto had a slow start as Stella on Wednesday’s opening night, but when she snapped into the character, we saw the sexual energy between her and Stanley, her love for her sister, and the confusion that having the two in the same house with her causes.

Dominique Ruffalo impressed in her small role as the upstairs neighbor, Eunice. Zach Zupke took on the role of Mitch — a tough one: His character is a tad dull, socially awkward and as lonely as Blanche, whom he woos. Zupke defined him well, making his decency and his desperation clear.

This is all played out on a most impressive set by scenic design grad student Jason Jamerson. It looked lived in, had the essence of New Orleans, and defined the characters and underscored the story.

This production is full of tension, laced with some humor, and moves at a remarkable pace without sacrificing the air the play needs.

Expect tears, even if you know how it ends.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@tucson.com or 573-4128. On Twitter:

@kallenStar