The Glass Menagerie Review - A Contemporary Take on a Classic Text

 

The Hypocrites presents actor and director Hans Fleischmann’s re-imagining of the classic Tennessee Williams play The Glass Menagerie. Originally performed and later remounted by the Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company, this production frames protagonist Tom’s recollection of the events of his past as the insane ramblings of a homeless man, inspired by Fleischmann’s time living in a van in Los Angeles. While “groundbreaking” is a bit of a generous description, the production does feature some intriguing elements, as well strong acting and design work.

 

(left to right) Hans Fleischmann, Joanne Dubach and Kate Buddeke in The Hypocrites’ production of Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE, re-imagined and directed by Hans Fleischmann

 

The Glass Menagerie takes place in St. Louis in the late 1930s, as America’s middle class struggles to recover from the effects of the Depression. The play’s central character, Tom, speaks from an unspecified future about his past experiences living with his mother, Amanda, a faded Southern belle trapped in reminiscing about her glorious past, and sister Laura, whose crippling shyness and physical disability make her fragile and delicate. Tom, whose wages pay the family’s rent and bills, longs to leave the family to seek adventure but fears becoming like his father, who abandoned the family long ago. After it is revealed that Laura has dropped out of business school after a nervous breakdown, Amanda becomes determined to find her a “gentleman caller” who will marry her and give her financial stability. Tom acquiesces to his mother’s request to find Laura a suitor from the warehouse where he works and brings home the bright and optimistic Jim, who represents hope for the family’s future, but whose dinner with the family does not turn out as planned.

 

(left to right) Hans Fleischmann, Joanne Dubach and Zach Wegner in The Hypocrites’ production of Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE, re-imagined and directed by Hans Fleischmann

 

Fleischmann’s “re-imagining” of this classic text does feature some interesting elements. Rather than a traditional collection of glass animals, Laura’s “glass menagerie” consists of colorful glass bottles arranged aesthetically throughout the space. The bottles light up at key moments in the play, creating a beautiful effect that adds elegance and meaning to the story. They also hint at Tom’s drinking and add another layer of delusion to the imaginary world Laura creates for herself.

 

(pictured) Joanne Dubach in The Hypocrites’ production of Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE, re-imagined and directed by Hans Fleischmann

 

The construct of Tom as a homeless man, with shaggy hair and ragged, dirty clothes throughout the show, adds further ambiguity to his character and to the play’s ambivalent ending and creates yet another layer of complexity to the relationship between past, present, and future that the play explores. This devices reaches its peak in the scene when Tom arrives home drunk and converses with his sister; here, Tom is alone onstage and the voice of Laura comes from speakers, producing the image of a man alone on the streets, speaking only to a figment of his imagination.

 

(left to right) Kate Buddeke and Joanne Dubach in The Hypocrites’ production of Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE, re-imagined and directed by Hans Fleischmann

 

Fleischmann’s “innovative” staging takes place mainly at the top of the play; initially, Tom is totally physically removed from the scenes, with his mother and sister behind a curtain and Amanda addressing the place at the table where Tom would be. The curtain is pushed aside shortly, and Tom slowly moves more and more into the same physical space that Laura and Amanda occupy, until the play is progressing as it would typically be staged. While not totally ineffective, this device does not seem to achieve as much as it might, with Tom’s slow integration into the home seeming to indicate little more than that the memories become more and more real to him as he tells them, an idea that is interesting but hardly unique. Also, once Tom enters the scenes physically, he remains there, so the device is nearly forgotten once the story is in full swing; it might have been more meaningful to watch Tom’s relative presence and absence from scenes play out more fully throughout the text.

 

(left to right) Hans Fleischmann, Kate Buddeke and Joanne Dubach in The Hypocrites’ production of Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE, re-imagined and directed by Hans Fleischmann

 

The acting in this production is strong across the board. Joanne Dubach is superb as Laura; she plays the character with a subtleness that makes Laura’s defects clear but still brings out enough of her inner life to draw in the audience’s empathy for her plight. Fleischmann is engaging as Tom, delivering a manic energy at times and a regretful melancholy at others. It is clear that he has dedicated much time and study to the intricacies of the role, and he captures the complexity of the character well. Kate Buddeke is a compelling Amanda, holding the audience’s attention even during her character’s long, rambling monologues and telephone calls. Finally, Zach Wegner embodies perfectly the cheerful arrogance that masks Jim’s deep insecurities and brings charm and vivacity to the role.

 

(left to right) Joanne Dubach and Zach Wegner in The Hypocrites’ production of Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE, re-imagined and directed by Hans Fleischmann

 

The design work on this show is exquisite. Composer Daniel Knox’s take on the play’s “glass menagerie music” is beautiful and haunting. Set design by Grant Sabin creates a space that is both gritty and lovely, and costumes by Mieka van der Ploeg are impeccably detailed—my particular favorite is the elegant lace dress worn by Laura in the second act. Perhaps my favorite design element of all is projections by Paul Deziel, which bring a gorgeous, contemporary sensibility to the words and images proposed in Williams’ original stage directions.

 

(left to right) Zach Wegner, Kate Buddeke and Joanne Dubach and in The Hypocrites’ production of Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE, re-imagined and directed by Hans Fleischmann. All photos by Evan Hanover

 

The Glass Menagerie is a staple of American theatre canon. Williams’ deeply personal, breakout masterpiece remains as relevant today as it was when it was written, and this production brings the story to the stage in colorful detail. Although not quite a revolutionary take on the text, Fleischmann’s re-imagining does feature some interesting components, and the production is a worthy staging of this classic play.

 

Ticket Information

Location: The Den Theatre's Heath Main Stage, 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago

Dates:  Thursday, February 11 – Sunday, March 6, 2016

Curtain Times: Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm & 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm.

Please note: there will be added performances on Thursday, February 11 at 8 pm, Thursday, February 18 at 8 pm and Thursday, March 3 at 8 pm.

Ticket Prices: Previews: $28 ($10 industry). Regular run: $36. Students: $15. Groups of 8 or more: $18 per person. Tickets are currently on sale at The Hypocrites website.

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