Jessica Lange is all breathy desperation in the TV version of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (CBS, Oct. 29, 8-11 p.m.), the play in which she also starred on Broadway in 1992 with Alec Baldwin. As Blanche DuBois, Lange arrives in New Orleans to stay with her sister, Stella (Diane Lane), and her brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski (Baldwin). Blanche doesn’t react well to the steaminess of the Louisiana climate or the atmosphere of sexual tension that pervades the cramped Kowalski tenement. ”Mah nerves are a knot,” Blanche says meekly. Soon enough, this sultry spinster causes a three-way emotional explosion. Streetcar may be off-putting to viewers used to naturalistic drama, but Blanche is speaking for the playwright when she says, ”I don’t want realism; I want magic!”

The magic is not quite achieved. Lange’s performance is halting and mannered to the point of being irritating. But Baldwin is terrific. He passes the crucial test — he never reminds you that his is the role made famous by Marlon Brando, and he brings a sneaky humor to the part. Roseanne’s John Goodman is fine in the thankless role of Blanche’s humble suitor. This production of the 1948 Pulitzer Prize-winner, overseen by director Glenn Jordan (Barbarians at the Gate), is faithful to Williams’ text and tone; it doesn’t try to update the psychology, which now seems simplistic and overwrought. In the Joe Eszterhas ’90s — our Jaded era — Williams’ tale of hothouse passion seems not so much quaint as too deeply felt. B

A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Movie
  • 122 minutes