BWW Review: The Hypocrites' THE GLASS MENAGERIE Displays A Powerful Shine
Upon entering the Den Theatre's Heath Main Stage to take in The Hypocrites' production of THE GLASS MENAGERIE, I was immediately struck by the bottles upon bottles of breathtaking glass that cover Grant Sabin's decrepit-yet-beautiful set. Like director Hans Fleischmann's production itself (a remount of a production he originally envisioned for Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company), the set for this GLASS MENAGERIE both exhilarates yet also supplies a sense of foreboding. When Fleischmann (who also stars) takes to the stage as Tom Wingfield, he embodies the role of the vagabond dreamer in every way. In this staging of Tennessee Williams' classic 1944 memory play, Fleischmann beckons audiences anew into the story--but his mangy hair, wild beard, and tattered attire (Mieka Van Der Ploeg's costume designs are a treasure throughout) keep us slightly distrustful. Nevertheless, this GLASS MENAGERIE captivates throughout--and though this play has been around for 72 years, the material felt entirely fresh to this first-time viewer.
Fleischmann seems entirely in command of both the text and his vision in this production--and moment after moment dazzles. It certainly helps that he has selected three capable actors to stand alongside him in this play that primarily concerns Tom, his wistful mother Amanda (Kate Buddeke, a late addition to the cast), and his frail, painfully shy older sister Laura (Joanne Dubach). The sincere and charming Zach Wegner joins later in the play, as gentleman caller Jim--the young man Amanda so fervently desires for her lonely daughter. The family dynamic between Fleischmann, Buddeke, and Dubach is a pleasure to watch. As the matriarch over the shabby St. Louis household of the Wingfields, Buddeke embodies both the determination and desperation of a single mother abandoned by her husband. Buddeke maintains a convincingly frantic and frustrated air about her character throughout--trying her best to sell magazine subscriptions to her female friends and then attempting to simply ooze charm when Jim walks in the door in the play's second act. Dubach bestows Laura with a sort of graceful trepidation. Her high-pitched, tentative line delivery perfectly conveys the anxious nature of the character yet she never veers too far on the side of pitiful. And when Laura shows her beloved collective of delicate glass animals to the visiting Jim--the "glass menagerie" of the title--Dubach seems to light from within. And along the way, Fleischmann remains a formidable, yet always unreliable, presence as Tom--his portrayal teeters on the edge of madness, as the character so longs to fulfill his dreams.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE proves just as visually compelling throughout the show's run time. Grant Sabin's eye-catching set manages to appear both beautiful and deteriorated--the stunning glass bottles stand out from the rest of the shabby set. Matt Gawryk's lighting design adds a sense of ethereal beauty to the production--particularly in a gorgeous sequence near the end of the show, the specifics of which I won't divulge here. And Paul Deziel's projections add a modern touch yet also serve to reinforce the play's 1940s setting. The projections often showcase advertisements from the era, yet also frequently showcase brief passages from the text to remind us of the surreal, dream-like elements in Williams' script.
Fleischmann's dazzling production is undoubtedly worth a visit. This GLASS MENAGERIE hovers in that intriguing space between entertaining (sometimes downright comedic) and tragic, just as the members of the Wingfield family so often seem to exist on the precipice between dream and reality.
The Hypocrites' THE GLASS MENAGERIE runs through March 6 at The Den Theatre's Heath Main Stage, 1329 North Milwaukee Avenue. Tickets are $36 and can be purchased online at The-Hypocrites.com or by phone at 872.205.6525.
Photo courtesy of The Hypocrites