Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"Glass Menagerie Succeeds at BTF" - What is My Problem?

Finally, this is not my favorite Tennessee Williams play. I say this after having spent a portion of the past spring semester attempting to convince a student that the play was and is of great value. Yes, it is most thoughtful and it bequeathes a multitude of emotional variance. The characters are non-simplistic. It stretches boundaries and begs for empathy: for one so wounded, Laura (Aya Cash); and one deluded yet perceptive beyond her own wishes, Amanda (Kate Maguire). Williams' voice is clear and his craft undeniable. That said, I do not imagine that I will soon again attend a performance of "The Glass Menagerie." I speak, here, for myself only.

Eric Hill is a director to whom production elements are vital. I've been watching Hill direct for two decades. His sets are never claustrophobic. This time, working with Carl Sprague, Hill supplies many wooden beams but the overall effect is to provide witness - to a very vulnerable, pain-ridden family. It's the mid-1930s in St. Louis and the surroundings are drab, moods, for the most part, dismal. Scott Killian's music is atonal, sometimes harsh, difficult.

Tom Wingfield (Tom Story) is also narrator of "Glass Menagerie." He works in a warehouse, writes poems, becomes exasperated with his mother, onetime Southern belle.....Tom has a friend, Jim O'Connor (Greg Keller), a co-worker, who crowns Jim as "Shakespeare." Laura remembers, vividly, that she sat across from Jim in high school when he dubbed her "Blue Roses." Jim, reminded, jokingly yet affectionately reflects upon that moment. Laura collects glass animal figurines. She and Jim dance and he, clumsily --- you must realize what occurs.

"The Glass Menagerie" is a memory play. My memory tells me that I saw a Williamstown Festival production and a Long Wharf production several years back and raved about neither one. I do appreciate the film version which Paul Newman directed. Why, however, am I surprised that "The Glass Menagerie," to me, is not number one on my list?

Maguire is something special. She has been transformed, through make-up and Olivera Gajic's outfitting, into a woman who is breaking down. Amanda retreats into fantasy even if she is horribly unhappy and sad. Nostalgic, she will never recapture her youth and her daughter, who is not crippled but is handicapped, is destined to be forlorn. Maguire is known to many as the BTF Artistic Director. I first watched her when in 1991 she appeared in Shakespeare & Company's "The Aspern Papers." She was and is an impressive actor.

This "Menagerie" is part reverie, part horror, and terribly real. All of the cast members are affecting.

When The Gentleman Caller (Keller) enters, he injects the proceedings with animation. He is a bit inappropriate -- quite spontaneous. Otherwise, it's a story of people who are helpless, victims to predicaments.

This rendering of "Menagerie" is not especially tender. Instead, it draws keen focus upon the depressing reality of circumstances. Amanda is disappointed with: both her children and with life issues she faces. Matthew E. Adelson's lighting is key as it provides tone, atmosphere in a proactive mode.

How to respond at the conclusion of this show, which continues its run at the Unicorn Theater (Berkshire Theater Festival, Stockbridge) through Sunday? The production is, to say the very least, commendable. It is about failure and perhaps that makes it difficult to assimilate.

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