The Glass Menagerie
Remount revitalizes a stale classic
|Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents|
|The Glass Menagerie|
Review by Keith Glab
Most of Shakespeare’s plays have been produced so many times that it has become commonplace for them to be performed completely different from the author’s intention. In many of these instances, the director winds up trying to force the text to fit their vision rather than create a vision that is supported by the text.
The Glass Menagerie, the semiautobiographical play that launched Tennessee Williams’ writing career, has been produced to death in its own right. Hans Fleischmann and Mary-Arrchie Theatre have put their own refreshing stamp on it by making the lead character and narrator of Tom a homeless man. But rather than this take feeling pretentious and forced, an audience member unfamiliar with the play would never know that this direction wasn’t Williams’ original intention.
Grant Sabin’s meticulous set design that likely consists of over a thousand pieces of dirty glass bleeds the reality of Tom’s present as a homeless man into his memory of life living with his mother and sister. Williams’ intention has always been to make the memory portion slightly surreal, and Fleischmann’s portrayal of Tom as a man hearing voices as he collects bottles adds on to that purpose. He uses the less frequently produced Reading Edition of the play that incorporates projected titles, melodramatic music, and red flashes of light to heighten the surrealism.
In the first act, Fleischmann directs the cast to deliver their lines to the audience as another break from reality. This device is not utilized in the second act for reasons unknown. Having seen it both ways, I can say the second act works far better. The lack of direct character interaction makes a play which is already shy on action tedious in the first act. This choice also causes many of the script’s humorous moments to fall flat.
Fleischmann’s performance as Tom is understated and heartfelt. Maggie Cain makes his mother Amanda into a distinct, believable character – this fading southern belle type is often overdone in Tennessee Williams productions. She tripped over her lines several times in the performance I attended, however, which is hard to excuse since she has been in the role for months. Joanne Dubach isn’t always convincing as Laura, Tom’s sister who has what we would now call severe social anxiety disorder, but manages to pepper in some honest moments. Walter Briggs really excels as Jim, Laura’s gentleman caller. Nervous yet charming, Briggs makes the most ancillary character of the play into the most complex and injects welcome energy into the second act.
Though this Mary-Arrchie remount sometimes feels over-directed, the premise of Tom narrating as a homeless man revitalizes a script that has become dated since its world premiere in Chicago seven decades ago. If you missed it at Angel Island, you should definitely check it out at Theater Wit. Williams fanatics will adore the fresh-yet-appropriate spin while Williams neophytes will find this to be an intriguing introduction to the much-celebrated playwright.
The Glass Menagerie continues through
July 28th August 25th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $32-$37, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through TheaterWit.org (half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at here. (Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Emily Schwartz
behind the scenes
Hans Fleischmann (director), Daniel Knox (original score, music director), Rudy Galvan (asst. director), Art Parker, Andrea Awad (technical directors), Andrew C. Donnelly (stage manager), Grant Sabin (set design), Joe Court (sound design), Matthew Gawryk (lighting design), Stefin Steberl (costume design), Arianna Soloway (prop design), Lyndsey Rhoads (choreography), Anna Henson (projection design), Emily Schwartz, Fred Bledsoe Photography (photos)