The Glass Menagerie (producer: The Hypocrites) is an often produced piece of beautiful and gritty American playwriting. This new production, re-imagined and directed by Hans Fleischmann, has become the one to aspire towards. I cannot imagine producing this play without taking into account the absolute artistry and risk in this production. The changes seem simple in hindsight and are all rooted in the text. This was not a drastic deconstruction of Williams, but rather a honing and focusing of the issue and struggle beneath the story.
Tennessee Williams’ plays exist in a duality of beautiful language and gritty, human relationships. Because of the beautiful prose, his plays are most often directed to be pretty, period pieces about flawed (yet pretty) people in strange situations. Fleischmann’s philosophy was to get to the root of the human struggle and deep relationships that cause the world of the play to exist. The entire play is refocused as Tom (played by Fleischmann) is now a homeless, schizophrenic, pariah, bent on recapturing and retelling his memories. Laura (Joanne Dubach) is somewhere on the autism disorder spectrum, or, perhaps like Williams’ own sister, has been partially lobotomized. Amanda (Kate Buddeke) is overflowing with Southern charm and manners, as a cover for her desperate attempts at overcoming shame and regret. Jim (Zach Wegner) is shiny on the outside, yet filled with turmoil about the expectations of others. The four characters are stripped down onstage to their darkest secret in front of us, and use Williams’ prose to skillfully cloth themselves.
The noteworthy design aspects that augmented the sharp direction: the simple and haunting music (Daniel Knox), the empty bottles that doubled as the menagerie (Scenic: Grant Sabin; Properties), and the eerie projections thrown onto the rags hanging around the stage (Paul Deziel). The most magical moment of the production came at the end, when all the bottles lit up as Tom was saying goodbye to his family and his audience.
This production will serve as the measuring stick for not only The Glass Menagerie, but all work by Tennessee Williams.