review: the glass menagerie

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The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Starring Patch Darragh, Judith Ivey, Keira Keeley, Michael Mosley
Roundabout (and Long Wharf) at Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W 46th Street
production web site:  http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/pels/
through June 13, 2010 (extended)

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
April 7, 2010

(L-R) Michael Mosley, Judith Ivey, Keira Kelley, Patch Darragh. Image by Sara Krulwich.
(L-R) Michael Mosley, Judith Ivey, Keira Kelley, Patch Darragh. Image by Sara Krulwich.

Amanda Wingfield, her son Tom, and her daughter Laura are part of the fabric of American theatrical storytelling.  Quiet and retired daughter Laura (Keira Keeley), mother Amanda (Judith Ivey), left to raise her children alone in the St. Louis  borderland of the 1930s, and closeted young adult son Tom (Patch Darragh) on the verge of breaking free of his familial obligations and to find his fortune and his future.  Their dramatic breaking point as a loosely assembled family, as remembered by Tom, comes with the visit of gentleman caller Jim (Michael Mosley), who is imbued with each family member’s hopes and dreams and delivers disappointment to each and every one.  At least as produced here.  And painfully, this layered and powerful memory play is given an oddly detached, sometimes barely visible, and out-of-balance treatment by the Roundabout Theatre and director Gordon Edelstein.

From the outset, sound design (David Budries) and set design (Michael Yeargan) give us a traveling salesman’s poor hotel room lens (Tom’s future?) that also serves as the Wingfield’s alley apartment in shabby chic St. Louis.  A bed is on stage at all times in this living room of memory, at one side.  Downstage left is a desk at which Tom sits typing his memory of this evening and its aftermath for a full 15 minutes (or so it seems) into the initial scene of the play.  On the corner of this same desk, at the end of the stage, Laura sets up her precious collection of glass figures, her glass menagerie.  Memories are located around the corners and in the middle of the detritus of the present in this presentation.

Throughout the production, this focus on Tom, this self-centered focus on Tom, muddies the power of the relationships in the family and of this particular memory.  Shadows overtake the crisp pain of moments that resonate in other productions.  Amanda’s rallying to make one more magazine sales phone call, the pain and sorrow of having to make those calls, it almost hidden by having her far far upstage.  The unused writing desk is more illuminated and other set pieces more visible during these important moments.  Jim’s accidental breaking of Laura’s most valued glass figure is almost impossible to see and Laura’s reactions to this  moment diminished in the odd lighting and placement of this focal event.  Tom is lurking at the edge of most scenes, with notebook in hand or simply glaring at the characters in his memory.  He expresses almost no sympathy for his mother but makes fun of her, and little sympathy, real human sympathy for his sister Laura.  In fact, the most energized moments of human connection come when Tom touches the hand of Jim, his friend from the warehouse, at the dinner table the evening of the visit.  There is a touch that lingers, a generalized homoerotic tension, that seemed wildly out of place.

And so it went for me with this production.  We as audience members are prevented (by lurking Tom, by candle lit / barely lit extended sequences, by downplayed major moments) from engaging with the people in the story, the characters in the memory play, in any fashion in real time to make this a real evening of theatre, despite individual actor’s lovely efforts to achieve a different effect.  This is a marvelous and moving script.  But this production, in dim light, with misguided moments, confusing through lines, and too much typing typing typing, we end up with a directorial concept and not enough feeling.

© Martha Wade Steketee (April 10, 2010)

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