By admin on May 29, 2009 | In ATW Reviews
Director Gordon Edelstein’s new take on Tennessee Willliam’s The Glass Menagerie at Long Wharf Theatre is different, that is certain, but sometimes, the adage “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” is good advice for classic theater.
Edelstein changes the setting from the Wingfield’s troubled St. Louis apartment parlor to a New Orleans hotel room where Tom (Patch Darragh), attempting to turn memories of his family into a play, remembers his overbearing mother Amanda (Judith Ivey), his painfully shy sister Laura (Keira Keeley), whose limp socially handicaps her further, and the gentleman caller, Jim (Josh Charles), a friend from work he brings home to meet Laura at Amanda’s insistence.
Amanda and Laura “materialize” in Tom’s memory behind a scrim in an effect expertly crafted by scenic designer Michael Yeargan and lighting designer Jennifer Tipton. As memory takes over and the action of the play switches to events in the past, the setting does not, however, and we’re held hostage in a hotel room while being asked to believe what we’re really seeing is the Wingfield’s tenement.
Setting the play in the hotel room diminishes the work's impact as we’re constantly distracted by the set. A slight pause can be heard as Amanda asks Jim to have a seat on the sofa – actually a bed – as though she has to remember to insert the correct noun since Ivey’s literally looking at the bed. Later Jim and man-shy Laura sitting side-by-side on the bed seems ludicrous. Jim and Tom step out onto the “terrace” to talk and smoke, but really, they stand on the edge of the hotel carpet, not even “outside” in that setting. For the quartet's dinner, serving trays suddenly appear from under the bed and items are fetched from the suitcase on a hotel luggage rack at the foot of the bed.
An extended period of darkness when it's very difficult to see anything in the second act and a ridiculous disco ball effect while Laura and Jim dance may be as much attempts to keep us from noticing the set as they are Tipton’s efforts to recreate candlelight and a romantic atmosphere.
Even the play's all important prop - the glass menagerie itself – seems slighted in this production. Instead of being displayed prominently and reverently, the crystal animals that make up Laura’s world of escape are scattered haphazardly on a rag-like cloth on a desk. If the play weren’t called The Glass Menagerie, we might not even notice the collection of glass, let alone recognize the prism of emotions it represents when Jim accidently breaks one of the figures.
Despite the staging, Ivey emerges as one of the more multi-faceted Amanda’s to date. A concern for the welfare of her children drives her behavior. She doesn’t want them to follow in her footsteps: abandoned by a husband (his portrait constantly gazes at the family from its place on the wall) and unable to provide for herself. Her escape comes from reliving the triumphs of her past as a belle who entertained many gentleman callers before she married the wrong one. This understanding makes her appearance in one of her old girlish gowns (costumes by Martin Pakledinaz) when Jim calls even more poignant. This Amanda also combines a sense of humor with the annoying, obsessively controlling nature that frightens Laura and alienates Tom.
Keeley’s Laura is uneven, sometimes limping and shaking to overdramatic effect and at other times, appearing almost as strong as Amanda. Charles’ portrayal of Jim is strong and the scene in which he shares memories with Laura, whom he had met in high school, and tries to boost her self esteem, is the play’s finest.
Darragh and Ivey interact well in the humorous exchanges between mother and son, but we never get a full sense of Tom’s feelings of suffocation or the burning need to be free of Amanda, especially when that desire is so strong it eventually prompts him to abandon his responsibilities and leave the two women to fend for themselves.
It’s a play about broken dreams, but in this rendition, it’s also about a play getting lost in broken sets caused by trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.
---- Lauren Yarger
The Glass Menagerie plays at Long Wharf Theatre Mainstage (222 Sargent Drive, New Haven, CT) through June 7. Performances are Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Wednesdays at 2 and 7 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm. Tickets are $32-$62 and are available by calling 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org.
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