Monday, April 5, 2010

The Glass Menagerie

"The Glass Menagerie" at the Laura Pels Theatre is a heartbreaking but humorous revival of the Tennessee Williams play. What impressed me first was the theatre staff themselves. They seemed genuinely concerned about the quality of their patrons' viewing experience. I was generally happy with my seat in the front row, off to the side, but because a stage prop sat right in front of me and would have obstructed my view of some brief moments of the play, an usher reseated me to the front row center section. Seeing the dream-like Tennessee Williams drama unfold right in front of me held me spellbound. Before arriving at the theatre, I had been slightly disappointed to learn the setting of the play had been changed from the small St. Louis apartment of the characters, to a hotel room where the character Tom sits at a typewriter, creating the play in front of the audience. Now, having seen the production, I'd call this change of venue a brilliant move that gives the play yet another rich layer of meaning, linking the writer Tom to Mr. Williams, the playwright himself, whose first name really is Thomas. Although a fictional story, Williams had based the characters on people in his own family, and this production plays like a melancholy biography of the author. I'm not a theatre critic, but I will say the performances both inspired laughter and moved me to tears. I had the feeling I was witnessing something truly special. After the show, during a question and answer session with the audience, someone stood up and said she'd seen the original production on Broadway. She said although that had been a magical experience for her, what the actors did in this staging at least equaled the impact of the Broadway show sixty-five years ago. Actress Judith Ivey as Amanda, the faded southern belle mother, is giving what some critics call "the performance of a lifetime." She said afterward she knew that character and based her eccentricities and humor on many of her close family members. She added she'd always wanted to play Amanda on stage, and now she's "old enough to do it." Patch Darragh says a research trip to Tennessee Williams' old haunts in St. Louis and New Orleans informed his portrayal. That's dedication. He even based his southern accent on Williams' own speech patterns after studying them from a documentary. I enjoyed his brotherly rapport with sister Laura, played by Keira Keeley, which made the ending all the more devastating. The play lasts nearly three hours, but I never felt restless during it, only entranced. Photos © 2010 Joan Marcus

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