The evening of Sept. 24 was anything but summer sultry, but Camden Civic Theatre injected some steam with its opening night performance of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The production’s final outings are Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1 and 2 at the Camden Opera House, Elm Street/Route 1.

“Streetcar” offers plenty of opportunities to go over the top, but this production, helmed by first-time CCT director Mim Bird, keeps things in line. The Dixie accents are mild, the one-set play’s apartment is just seedy enough and its occupants’ emotions break out in sudden bursts rather than slowly swallowing the proceedings. Some might find the approach a bit cool for Southern comfort, but I “heard” more of the play’s lines than I have in the past. Kate Fletcher plays Blanche Dubois with less hysteria than one might, for example, and I ended up appreciating how amusing a lot of Blanche’s comments are — you can see how this faded belle could charm so many, at least for a time.

Marie Merrifield’s Stella makes it clear early on she is no push-over, though she does have that fatal weakness named Stanley. Merrifield and Fletcher are believable as sisters with divergent pathologies, responding to the strong bond they share but may not be able to maintain. Jim Lattin’s Stanley is not quite the Brando beefcake — who is? — but he explodes impressively and has the physical power necessary to easily tote Stella around. All were strong and clear with their lines and characters this night.

The small space the combustible trio is confined to has a more Southwestern than Crescent City color scheme but otherwise boasts some good details like a period fan up on the kitchen cabinet and an compressor-on-top icebox. I liked the real light fixtures hanging down from the light bar, especially the bare bulb — bare until Blanche brings home a paper lantern, of course. And the costumes are spot-on.

As claustrophobic such a set-up could be, the quartier clearly has an open-door policy (kudos on that door, a crooked screen job just made for slamming). In and out at regular intervals are the squabbling/lusty upstairs neighbors Eunice and Steve, played tough by Tabitha Ordway and put-upon by Corey Honkonen. Steve is one of several poker playing buds who make a few appearances and include Scott Anthony Smith as Pablo and Brad Fillion as Mitch.

Mitch is a mama’s boy, and mama’s dying so he is looking for someone to fill the coming void. Fillion brings dimension to the role of the hopeful and then frustrated suitor who represents Blanche’s last chance to get a place of her own. All the elements of tragedy are in place by intermission. When Act 2 opened, it was clear that while we were downing refreshments, these characters were headed down an inevitable slope: in the opening moments, Fletcher’s Blanche was revealed to be more brittle and Merrifield’s Stella more weighted down — literally, as she sported a high-riding baby bump.

The tech end of things got a lot looser in Act 2; sound cues, which had been quite reliable, turned messy in an important scene, which also was marred by loud footfalls backstage or maybe in the balcony. The blocking for that scene, where Blanche tells Mitch the story of her young marriage, had Fletcher deliver her lines to the audience rather than Mitch, which didn’t work for me. Later, she took her lines to us again and there it made sense.

The music selections used were very well chosen and added to the show, while the sound effects generally felt script-demanded. I think if there were a general New Orleans neighborhood hubbub throughout, the required sounds would come across as more organic (either way, I could do without the cats mating when Stella and Stanley came back together after a violent altercation). A city soundscape also could fill in the scene changes, which were somewhat lengthy for a one-set show. Then again, there is all that glass to sweep up. No liquids though — the lemon Coke-handling women could take a tip from how the poker guys treat their empty beer bottles as if they were full.

“Sex and violence, lemonade and pralines!”, I summarized the evening to my husband. This production is unusual for CCT in its depiction of the first; I’ve often said that if you want to see real adult behavior in a Midcoast community theater production, you have to go to Belfast or Damariscotta. But there’s plenty to go around in this show, which helps Stella’s choices make twisted sense.

As this sad story twists and turns, other characters come in to escort it to its end. Devin Fletcher wandered through, singing out “flores por los muertos” in her lovely voice. Randall Merrifield played the kindly stranger who provokes one of the play’s most famous lines, while Ellen Claussen showed up a couple of times, most memorably as a tough asylum matron who struck fear in the heart of one audience member, to hear him tell on the way out.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” is freighted with baggage, from its inescapable film adaptation to its author’s, and his time’s, fear and loathing of homosexuality … and then there’s the domestic violence. It’s a lot for a director and cast to take on, at any level. I think the CCT production is a strong attempt to present what Bird calls in her director’s notes a true American tragedy and as such it deserves the local audience, as well as the visitors much in evidence this night, to check it out.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $16 for orchestra seats and $12 for seats in the wings or balcony; there is a $2 discount for students and senior citizens. Tickets may be purchased at the door the night of the performance; by calling 800-595-4849; or at The show is not recommended for young people.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to