Chicago Theater Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE (Mary-Arrchie at Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on May 31, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

EXQUISITE SHARDS OF GLASS

Never has the title of Tennessee Williams’ early masterpiece, The Glass Menagerie, been so thoroughly embraced by the set designer. Grant Sabin takes the name of this 1944 memory play very seriously. Unlike past productions where the late 1930s Saint Louis cramped Wingfield apartment is fully realized, fire escape and all, Mary-Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Mary-Arrchie’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE.Arrchie’s triumphant revival pictures the play in fragments — just as narrator Tom recalls it from his now-homeless quarters in some unnamed city.

It makes perfect sense: Williams admits in Tom’s time-traveling prologue that he offers illusions that hide the truth; they cannot be realistic. Mary-Arrchie takes him up on that, regaling us with shards of a past that we and the play must put together. Often the characters, now imperfect souvenirs disconnected in retrospect, speak directly to the audience. When they actually touch each other, it hits us like a galvanic shock. Once you get used to them, these distancing devices work wonderfully.

In memory of his lost sister Laura, Hans Fleischmann’s bearded and reclusive Tom has collected hundreds of bottles and other brittle pieces. These remind him of his crippled sister’s fragile collection of crystal animals. As he recalls her one happy moment, the “candlelight scene” in which Tom’s gentleman-caller friend Jim gives Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Mary-Arrchie’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE.Laura a pep talk that turns into a brief romance, Tom’s glass museum literally glows with Laura’s unexpected joy. The fact that Tom was not really there — validating that this love scene really can’t be part of a memory play — becomes utterly irrelevant.

Fleischmann, who also directs, uses Anna Henson’s powerful projections (old photos, pictures of blue roses and other metaphors, and silent-movie captions echoing the dialogue) to great effect. Along with this lost-and-found set, it puts Williams’ pungent scenes in a powerful perspective.

Like snapshots from a family album, we once more glimpse the Wingfield family discord and Tom’s determination to break free as his father did. Holding her disintegrating family together is Maggie Cain’s cracked belle Amanda, a once-courted Mississippi debutante who’s as stuck in an unrepeatable past as Blanche Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Mary-Arrchie’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE.DuBois would prove in A Streetcar Named Desire.  Velvet hiding steel, Cain’s demure but determined mother can morph in a moment into a tigress fighting, not for her young, but against them.

If Cain’s mother goes wrong trying to give Laura the impossible fantasy that she once knew in Blue Mountain, Fleischmann’s Tom is simply haunted by his own helplessness (as Williams was for his doomed sister Rose, who inspired the guilt and glory of Glass Menagerie).  He obsessively confesses his long-gone moments as if to exorcise or expiate some dark secret. Seldom has Tom’s motivation for his memory play been so non-negotiable.

But two characters seem as much in the present tense as Tom’s nostalgia will allow. Joanne Dubach’s delicate dreamer of a Laura seems one more wounded Wingfield, as breakable as her glittering companions. But, after her breakthrough conversation Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Mary-Arrchie’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE.with Walter Briggs’ affable and downhome-decent Jim O’Connor, she takes on, however briefly, all the strength and confidence that life denied her.

After seeing over a dozen Glass Menageries, I had thought, quite wrongly, that Williams’ seemingly inexhaustible script had been explored to its limits. Not so. Mary-Arrchie’s revival, a surefire hit on Sheridan Road as it will be on Belmont Avenue, makes the magic matter more than ever. “Blow out your candles, Laura.” Indeed.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Mary-Arrchie’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE.photos by Emily Schwartz

The Glass Menagerie
Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company at Theater Wit
scheduled to end on June 30, 2013
EXTENDED through August 25, 2013
for tickets, call (773) 975-8150
or visit http://www.TheaterWit.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater,
visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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