Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“THE GLASS MENAGERIE” – The Old Globe
AIRDATE: APRIL 25, 2008
There’s a stifling airlessness about “The Glass Menagerie,” set in a cramped, shabby St. Louis tenement. But not on the Cassius Carter Centre Stage. The set conveys an airy openness, with its multiple steps and levels, a hazardous environment for a daughter with a lame leg. That’s not the only part of the Tennessee Williams masterwork that’s ill-conceived at the Old Globe. Director Joe Calarco did a fine job a couple of years ago, with the Globe premiere of the politically cynical “ Lincolnesque .” But Williams’ autobiographical play is as delicate as the animals of the title. This heavy-handed, over-directed production begins gracelessly, at a simultaneously hyperactive and glacial pace. There’s a flurry of unnecessary stage business, which slows down the action. Tom, the narrator, normally played as a frustrated depressive, here bounds across the stage like an angry, overanxious puppy. First-time actor Michael Simpson gives him little subtext or complexity, and he lacks the soul or sensibility of a poet. Tom’s beautifully lyrical lines, relayed as reminiscence, are often presented as voiceovers, which distances the audience and leaves us staring at the static image of a man writing in a book.
Tom’s mother, Amanda Wingfield , is often portrayed as a harridan. The former Southern belle lives in the past, relentlessly recalling her youth of endless suitors. But she made a bad choice, and her charmer of a husband abandoned the family long ago. Now, she smothers her children in overprotective zeal, desperately hoping to shield them from her unhappy fate. But it’s too late. Tom is terminally restless, like his father. Laura, here with an inconsistent limp, retreats further into her fantasy world of tiny glass figures. As played by convincingly Southern-sounding Emmy Award-winner Mare Winningham , Amanda is neither vicious nor desperate; she’s an earthbound realist misplaced in a dreamy play. She hangs all her hopes on a “gentleman caller” for Laura, and she badgers Tom until he reluctantly brings someone home from his dead-end job at the warehouse. The second-act scene between Laura and Jim is the high point of the evening, though staged in candlelight, it’s barely visible. Kevin Isola keeps assuming the spread-leg stance of a policeman, but his attention to Laura brings her alive for one fragile moment, when Michelle Federer , with her fluttering hands and dashed hopes, succeeds in breaking our hearts. It’s the single still, aching instant in a sadly misguided production.
But at some of our small, intimate theaters, you can have a more fulfilling experience . Consider the intense drama of “Terra Nova” at 6th @ Penn Theatre, a harrowing tale of heroism, folly and death in the race to the South Pole. Or the modern-day fairy tale, “Prelude to a Kiss,” at New Village Arts, a magical romantic comedy about the meaning of true love. Great theater isn’t always where you expect it.
“Terra Nova” runs through May 11 at 6th @ Penn Theatre.
“Prelude to a Kiss” is at New Village Arts through May 18.
“The Glass Menagerie” continues at the Old Globe through May 18.
©2008 PAT LAUNER