theater (reviews)

review: the pretty trap

The Pretty Trap

By Tennessee Williams (one-act version of “The Glass Menagerie”)
Directed by Antony Marsellis
Cause Celebre
at Theatre Row Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street

August 3, 2011 — August 21, 2011
production web site:  http://causecelebre.info/index.htm

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
August 3, 2011

(L-R) Katharine Houghton, Nisi Sturgis, Robert Eli, Loren Dunn. Image by Ben Hider.

The story of the Wingfields (son Tom yearns to break free from economic, social, cultural ties that bind, daughter Laura yearns to be left alone or to break through her social bafflement, mother Amanda yearns to instill in her children the hopes she once had for culture and social graces, and a gentlemen caller represents future possibilities) resonates with American theatrical and cultural history.  We read about the original production and Laurette Taylor‘s history making Amanda and experience subsequent productions with respect and high standards.  Productions celebrating Williams this centennial year include the oft-produced, rarely produced, and never-before-produced, as in the case of this one-act draft precursor to The Glass Menagerie.  In recent months I have viewed productions of The Glass Menagerie at Arena Stage, Vieux Carré by Wooster Group at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, and a new stage version of a screenplay One Arm at the Acorn Theatre.  The Pretty Trap has for me deep dramaturgical interest about paths not taken and character possibilities discarded in the playwright’s final draft script.  As a piece of stand alone theatre this piece is seriously challenged, as Williams himself agreed.

The story is simplified, scaled back, and the edges softened, creating Lifetime After School Special out of searing drama.  Amanda (Katharine Houghton), son Tom (Loren Dunn), daughter Laura (Nisi Sturgis) and the Gentleman Caller (Robert Eli) still tell the tale, but in different slices, and with different tones.  (Each of the performers provide a professional reading of what is on the page.) Our Trap is here more comedy than tragedy out of the similar raw materials —  a working mother, a socially awkward rather than physically handicapped young adult daughter, and a put-upon slightly bemused bookish breadwinning son Tom.  The action of our drama is now purely the dinner party itself — all other references are reported (Laura leaving her secretarial course, Amanda’s phone calls to sell magazine subscriptions, Tom’s thwarted wanderlust).  Reported plot points rather than dialogue and dramatic moments we share with the characters.  This is a sit-com version of the “date” part of the full length final play, with a happy ending.

We all go through drafts. Williams famously constantly rewrote even after his plays were produced. While this is an intriguing exercise I am glad to have seen, I believe this piece is of dramaturgical interest alone and perhaps has a future as a production piece as part of academic conferences or Williams festivals during which participants can compare and contrast and ask what if and what works and celebrate the final editing and writing in the wonder we know as The Glass Menagerie. The intellectual exercise can now be refiled with the archive papers.

© Martha Wade Steketee (August 6, 2011)

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