BWW Reviews: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at Theater Schmeater
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by Jay Irwin
Theater Schmeater is currently presenting the fledgling yet classic work of Tennessee Williams, "The Glass Menagerie". And while a little over produced, there are solid and heartbreaking performances that will stay with you.
Based on one of Williams' short stories, "Portrait of a Girl in Glass", we follow the depression era Wingfield family as they struggle to make ends meet. But the lack of money doesn't keep the matriarch, Amanda, from trying to make sure her children make something of themselves. But they will do it her way no matter the consequences. She insists that her son, Tom, can do better in his job and in life while all Tom wants is to get away and find adventure out in the world just as his father did when he left them 16 years ago. And then there's Amanda's daughter Laura, an introverted (almost painfully so) young woman with a brace on her leg. While Amanda pushes her to make something of herself so she can attract gentlemen callers, as Amanda did in her youth, Laura wants to be left in peace with her records and her tiny glass animals, her titular Glass Menagerie. Add into this mix a young man, Jim, whom Tom has brought home to dinner to meet Laura and you have a touching story that has tugged at the heart strings of audiences for years.
Mariah Cane Ware as Laura turns in a subtle and moving performance. Her quiet desperation leading her up to one hopeful moment was something to see. She carefully walked the line of a character who could easily blend into the woodwork. Zach Adair as the gentlemen caller, Jim, countered her wallflower state perfectly with his confident and charmed presence. And the scene where the two are left alone was heart wrenchingly lovely. Karen Gruber Ryan as the over bearing Amanda is wonderful. She manages to take a woman who is practically torturing her children (for their own good) and make her sympathetic. And Patrick Lennon as the life seeking Tom is stirring. Tom, in addition to being a character in the piece, is also the narrator in this self proclaimed "memory play" and so he, above all, must capture our attention or why watch the play. So it's a good thing Lennon has a likable stage presence so even when we question is motives or actions, we still want to watch and root for him.
The show is the first directorial shot for J.D. Lloyd as Schmeater's new Artistic Director. He's directed for them before (if you were lucky enough to see his amazing "Creation of the World" you know how good he is) but this is the first show in his new position with them. And while it's a solid piece with extremely well thought out and focused moments, there was one element that bothered me. They chose to illuminate a back wall of the set with projections of images depicting items or feelings they were talking about. And while this can work in some pieces, I found it distracting here. The use of projection has been a new toy for some since the technology to use it effectively has become so readily available these days. But the problem is that theaters fall into the trap of over using it. And that was the case I saw here. There were moments where it worked, for example when Amanda is reliving her glory days with her own gentlemen callers, her memories seemed to appear behind her. But then it became so much of a gimmick when at times it would project something that the characters had just mentioned. Yes, we know what they meant and we know what we want to feel. No need to tell us.
All in all a solid production with lovely performances. I only wish they had relied more on those performances and the script to tell the story and not so much on the technical.
"The Glass Menagerie" performs at Theater Schmeater on Seattle's Capitol Hill through October 16th. For tickets or information contact the Theater Schmeater box office at 206-324-5801 or visit them online at www.schmeater.org.
Photo Credit: R. MacStravic