BWW Reviews: Marin Theatre Produces Compelling New Look, Strong Cast For THE GLASS MENAGERIE
In Tennessee Williams' classic play, "The Glass Menagerie," a main character describes an encounter he has with a magician. Tom watched as the magician had audience members nail him into a coffin, but then escaped from the coffin without removing one single nail. Such a trick seems impossible in real life, and Tom feels trapped in his own coffin, unable to move on.
Marin Theatre Company's production conveys this solemn situation with solid acting, bare sets and a lone trumpet player who plays music with the feel of a private-eye detective movie and that represents the ghostly memories of Tom, as well as a portrait of his deserting father. The trumpet, played by Andrew Wilke, is original to this production, added to help with scene transitions, as well as to create a symbol without having a full portrait of the father. Wilke stays in the background for the entire play, which lasts about two hours and fifteen minutes plus a fifteen minute intermission. His music, composed by MTC regular Chris Houston, amplifies the depression setting, but also adds a bit of hope when it wafts through Tom's small apartment, coming from a neighboring dance hall.
There's little hope for this family. Tom works at a warehouse to pay the rent and electricity and to keep his mother, Amanda, and sister, Laura, alive. Laura suffers from a crippling disease and intense shyness. She lives in a world of her own, spending most of her time taking care of her glass figurines, for which the play is named, and listening to music. Her mother, however, does not have a shy bone in her body. She would give Mrs. Bennet from "Pride and Prejudice" a run for her money as busy body, matchmaking mother of the year. Her constant nagging on Tom to take care of himself and her ongoing insistence that Laura will receive a gentlemen caller lead the household to never-ending yelling and arguing. The noise and conflict only contribute to Laura's problems, and when a gentlemen friend of Tom's finally does arrive, only tragedy can loom in the air.
The semi-autobiographical play based on Williams' own life contains stirring truth. No great lesson or moral, just truth. It captures a time period in which, as Tom says, people went to the movies to get the adventures they couldn't have in their own lives, a time when when people like Tom Longed to move instead of going to the movies. Tom does wash away many of his sorrows at the movies, and eventually leaves his family, but only to be haunted by the memory of his sister.
Scenic designer Kat Conley's sets are bare, with few props to accentuate them. Consisting of the frames of a couch and dining room table and ladders and platforms representing fire escapes outside the apartment, the sets emphasize the poverty of the family. Amanda, Laura and Tom are trapped in the apartment, with a few windows and one door as their only access to the outside world.
With power and force, the five-person cast draws the audience into the lives of these people and their problems. Anna Bullard's Laura is as delicate and feeble as her character's glass figurines. Nicholas Pelczar exudes Williams in look and speech, and Sherman Fracher glides over her many lines as if they were her own words. Rounding off the cast, Craig Marker appears as Jim, Tom's friend from The Warehouse, in the second act, but, despite his late entry, his role is crucial, and Marker brings out both the soft and hard sides of his character, who represents hope, yet leaves the family just as sad as ever.
A fitting tribute to Tennessee Williams' life and works timed to coincide with his centennial celebration, Marin Theatre Company's production of "The Glass Menagerie" honors the story, its setting and its inspiration while bringing new creative energy to a classic work. Williams' own life spelled quite the tragedy, much like his characters. But Marin Theatre is quite the triumph.
The Glass Menagerie
Marin Theatre Company
Nov 25-Dec 18
Photo by Alessandra Mello
Photo Caption: Anna Bullard (Laura), foreground, with Sherman Fracher (Amanda) and Nicholas Pelczar (Tom) in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie, now through December 18 at Marin Theatre Company.