Monday, April 20, 2015

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

James O'Halloran and Amanda Correia

By Joe Straw

Sometimes, I want to see actors - on a bare stage - in just a black box theatre. I hunger for the thespian to bring the place, to live in the space, to feel Tennessee William’s imaginary “transparent jaded portieres” brush against their body.  I want the actors to listen to the wind, shiver from the imaginary morning dewdrops, and show me they are connected in time and space in that black box. And then there are other times that – I want more. – Narrator

After reading James Grissom’s

“The Follies of God
Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog” *

- the time was perfect time to see “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, in its entirety, to get a full and complete perspective of each character’s moral imperfections.  

The Renegade Theatre presents The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams directed by Wilson Better, Produced by Richard Baker, Theodora Greece & Emily O’Meara April 9th through May 17th, 2015.

There is something off in the Wingfield family what with the peculiarities of every member of that household. Tom, an aspiring writer with no girl friend to speak of, runs off nights, not coming home until late in the evening, the early morning, doing, who knows what. And Laura, well, she’s a little touched and slightly “crippled”.  And it’s a pretty sure bet that if something doesn’t happen soon with Amanda Wingfield’s family, like getting her kids married and having grandchildren, that will be the end of her line. With no husband for emotional and financial support this family is barely hanging on.  Right now, this is a family on life support.  

Tom (Wilson Better) introduces us to the Wingfield family.  He is merchant marine now dressed in a pea coat and a skullcap, looking back at things that were, and describing a life that no longer exists.  It is Tom’s vivid recollection of events that were, or were not, depending on the days recalling abilities, or possibly his truths that have been slightly altered.   

“This play is memory.  Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” – Tom

Despite their poverty – Tom is the only breadwinner and makes little money - they sit at a sparse dinner table, in ridiculous confabulation, and just to get through it without Tom, in burning silent rage, exploding.  

Tom fed up with Amanda’s (Katherine Cortez) exquisitely obtuse dinner language, leaves to smoke a cigarette. 

Laura (Amanda Correia), in an effort to help around the house, clears the table.

“Resume your seat, little sister – I want you to stay fresh and pretty – for gentlemen callers!” - Amanda

Amanda, in story form, enlightens her children with the telling of her younger days when she entertained 17 gentlemen callers. A story she has re-told many times and still Tom humors her.

“How did you entertain those gentlemen callers?” – Tom

“I understood the art of conversation.” - Amanda

Amanda has this idea that gentlemen callers are going to rush to Laura’s doorsteps right after dinner, but there are no gentlemen callers on this night, and possibly never will be unless extreme action is taken.   

It is quite clear the objective in the first act is for all to work to get the gentleman caller into their home.  

But, there is a problem.  Laura is a loner and unwilling and unable to better herself in any capacity.  To placate her mother, she practices on the typewriter at night and pretends to go to business school during the day.

And when Amanda finds out that Laura has not attended classes, she angrily confronts her daughter.

“How old are you, Laura?” – Amanda

“Mother, you know my age.” – Laura

“I thought that you were an adult; it seems that I was mistaken.” – Amanda

Laura negotiates her way around Amanda with tiny little crippled steps, finding solace in the records her father has left her and finding comfort in her glass menagerie.

Meanwhile Amanda sets her sights on Tom’s unruly library collection in an effort to change him. 

“I took that horrible novel back to the library – yes!  That hideous book by that insane Mr. Lawrence.” – Amanda (One suspects Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence)

Amanda views Tom in a different and possibly suspicious light.  But she treads very lightly because he is the only means of support for the Wingfield family. Still Amanda thinks he is jeopardizing his job by going to the movies and staying out late nights to satisfy his crazy adventurous spirit.  

Amanda has this dreadful curiosity that all is coming to an end. 

“What are we going to do, what is going to become of us, what is the future?” – Amanda

And just when you think all is hopeless, the gentleman caller arrives, Jim O’Conner (James O’ Halloran) to give us more insight into the human condition and a lot of sub-textual life through his intercourse with the entire Wingfield family.  

Wilson Better, in his directorial debut, brings a very worthy “…Menagerie” to Los Angeles on this night, negotiating an extremely fine ensemble, to highlight Williams’s true to life foibles growing up in Missouri. There are a thousand ways to stage The Glass Menagerie, but this particular production is an actor’s venue.  One in which the actors create more than what is available on the stage.  Set pieces in this grand black box theatre indicate budgetary constraints whereas a little more imaginative symbolism could go a long way.   There is no set design, or anyone credited for that task. The title cards and the flash projections are not a part of this version.  So, we really have to rely on the actors to bring it all when they perform.  And they do for the most part.  

Part I of this play is called Preparation of a Gentleman Caller and the conflict of the first act should include not only the words but also the subtext and dramatic inner life of getting the gentleman caller through the door.  This leads us to Part II, The Gentleman calls. 

This family is dying right before Amanda’s eyes and she really has to work hard to change things fast. In the first act, the conflict needs strengthening. In the second act, the scene opening the door for the gentleman caller is meant to be humorous and filled with life – on this particular night, more could have been added. Still, these are only minor problems that would only add to a very well directed play by Mr. Better.   

Wilson Better, playing Tom, is a fantastic actor.  The words ring true; his voice is a fine instrument that promises precise poetic license, and his manner on stage quite remarkable. The lights went out on him on the night I was there, and Better recovered nicely. Still, there are moments that could have been better defined. Tom is hiding something he doesn’t want his mother or anyone else to know. This falls with inviting an unmarried man over to his place for dinner without telling that man his mother and sister will be there. However this relationship manifests itself, a richer inner life, transparent feeling, would only help to create a dramatic relationship between the two.   There is more to be made of the scene when the lights go out, especially since Tom did not pay the bill.  And there is also more to be had by the unexpected leaving of the gentleman caller. Tom is a writer, a poet, and more than likely, gay. (Reading James Grissom’s book and given the playwrights proclivities and his religious beliefs, this fits with Tom’s character.) Those small tidbits aside, Better does an exquisite job with the character in a performance that should not be missed.  

L - Katherine Cortez and Amanda Correia

Amanda Correia plays Laura Wingfield. There is more life to be had with this character. Instead the character reads tedious, lifeless, and cripple. More creative thinking is in order for a stronger physical and emotional life. In one scene, Laura falls.  There must be a reason for falling, yet the reason was not evident on this night. Laura should be in heaven dancing, having been kissed and then totally destroyed from what happens next.  There is a different life to be had, and one that will probably be changed by the time you see it.  That said Correia has a good look and does nice things on stage.

Katherine Cortez plays Amanda Wingfield and does so in fantastic fashion.  In this superb role, Cortez manages to capture the essence of Amanda and in one outstanding moment in the play, the part where she is showcasing the dress, there is a sudden realization that the dress does not do justice to her now aging body.  It is a moment wonderfully captured by this actress. Cortez also has a fine voice and a very comfortable way on stage.

James O’Halloran plays Jim O’Conner, the gentleman caller, and one would not expect that he is from Australia.  His American accent is perfect; he fills the role nicely, and manages himself on stage effortlessly.  Jim O’Conner is an interesting character.  He is a man who six years earlier was engaged.  He is unbetroth now, at least that’s what he makes himself out to be with Tom. He has a fondness for Tom.  And with his delicate raillery, has even given him a nickname, “Shakespeare” and yet, that life does not appear on stage and something O’Halloran needs to bring, however slight or accentuated.

Other members of the creative team are as follows:

Chick Vennera – Founding Director of The Renegade Theatre Group

Theodora Greece – Assistant Director

Samuels - Poster Design

Michael Healy’s Lighting Design had a few problems on this night.  The opening dinner scene was lit very softly making it hard to see the actors.  This is an extremely important scene that establishes character and creates the financial circumstances of the household that we really need to see. A little more imaginative lighting is in order.

The costumes were excellent but no one was credited in the program for that job.

Run! Run! And take a friend who is pretty and has a slight limp.

·      * A very interesting book about the women in Tennessee Williams life and how those women (Maureen Stapleton, Eva Le Gallienne, Miriam Hopkins, Lillian Gish, Jessica Tandy, Laurette Taylor, Tallulah Bankhead, Julie Harris, Kim Hunter, Geraldine Page, to name a few) influenced his writing. It also includes the men in his life.

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