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Posts Tagged ‘the glass menagerie’

You Lied to Me About Centralia
by John Guare
Directed by Rayme Cornell
Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis
August 22, 2021

In the same weekend that the Tennessee Williams Festival has premiered it’s excellent, site-focused outdoor production of The Glass Menagerie, they’ve also staged a much shorter companion piece featuring one of the characters featured in Williams’s classic play. You Lied to Me About Centralia is a short play–running about 20 minutes–and the tone is much more wryly comic than the headlining show–but celebrated playwright John Guare’s examination of these characters and their situation adds much to think about concerning Williams’s work as well as the ways individuals allow themselves to be influenced by others.

Guare’s one-act is based more directly on Williams’s short story “Portrait of a Girl in Glass”, which was a predecessor of The Glass Menagerie. Still, the story is similar enough, and the character of Jim O’Connor (Chauncy Thomas) is essentially the same, especially at TWFSTL considering that he’s played by the same actor in both productions. Thomas is joined here by Julia Crump as Jim’s fiancee, Betty, who was mentioned by name but does not appear in The Glass Menagerie. In that play, Jim mentioned that he had to pick Betty up at the train depot after her trip to visit a sick aunt in Centralia. This play–which gets its title from its first line of dialogue–imagines that meeting, and Guare’s depiction of events suggests aspects of Jim’s character–and especially Betty’s–that Williams hadn’t portrayed. 

Here. Betty hadn’t been visiting an ailing aunt–she’d been to see a rich uncle in Granite City instead, with the idea of trying to get “Uncle Clyde” to give her money to buy a house. Jim is initially upset by the deception, but his affable personality allows him to gloss it over, although we also get to see how Betty’s influence–and that of their more “socially acceptable” friends–affects how Jim tells the story of his dinner date with the Wingfields. Betty’s own prejudices also surface when we hear her account of finally meeting her uncle, who had given a different impression of himself in his letters; and her comparisons of her uncle to Tom Wingfield reveal aspects of her character that lie beneath her well put-together, seemingly bubbly surface. The relationship dynamics here are fascinating to watch, and although the tone is largely comic, there’s a tragic aspect here, as we see how Jim responds to her teasing by telling her what she wants to hear. The play serves as not only a character study, but as an examination of social norms at the time, and of the concept of socially enforced conformity. 

The performances are strong, with Thomas getting to show a different side to this character he has already played in a different context, and Crump displaying a strong sense of presence and influence. Both performers work well together, displaying good comic timing and chemistry. The staging is simple and also excellent, as the action plays out on a minimal set (just a bench) on the same stage as The Glass Menagerie, which serves as an intriguing echo since we are now getting to see another look at one of that play’s memorable characters. It’s another memorable moment from the still relatively new, but always excellent, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis. 

 

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The Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Brian Hohlfeld
Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis
August 19, 2021

Brenda Currin, Bradley James Tejeda
Photo by ProPhotoSTL.com
Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

The Glass Menagerie calls itself a “memory play”, and much of it is not-so-subtly based on the life of its playwright, Tennessee Williams. For their headline production this year, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis has taken the “memory” aspect even further than usual. By incorporating a Central West End apartment building in which Williams once lived, and staging the play outside, director Brian Hohlfeld and the creative team, along with an excellent cast, are able to take advantage of the historic location to help set the tone and period atmosphere.

The overall tone is affected greatly by the setting, with Dunsi Dai’s superbly realized set providing the ideal backdrop for this haunting, emotional and evocative production. The lighting by Catherine Adams and sound by Kareem Deanes, along with detailed period-specific costumes by Michele Siler, are also exactly on-point, lending much to the storytelling. Every expression and word of dialogue is clear, as is the feeling of the St. Louis of days gone by. Atmospheric music that’s supposed to be emanating from records on the Victrola or wafting in from the (in-story) dance hall across the alley helps to maintain the overall heightened sense of longing and hoping for something better for this family consisting of faded Southern belle Amanda Wingfield (Brenda Currin) and her adult children, the shy, socially awkward and physically challenged Laura (Elizabeth Teeter), and the restless writer Tom (Bradley James Tejeda), who wishes to focus more on his writing and explore the world beyond St. Louis and the drudgery of his job at a shoe factory. The story, which leads up to a fateful dinner with a much-anticipated “Gentleman Caller” named Jim (Chauncy Thomas), is told as a set of memories recounted by an older Tom, as he reflects on his family’s situation and everyone’s dealing with events of the past as well as hopes and fears for the future. 

The staging is adapted to the set especially well, with the outdoor setting and especially the real fire escapes working ideally for the story, and the performances are remarkable. Tejeda’s Tom is a constant presence even when he’s not on stage, and his perspective paints a vivid picture of the sense of growing longing and desperation among the various characters. The overall family dynamic is on clear display, from anger and resentment, to some genuinely affectionate moments, as Tom truly cares for the well-being of his sister and, occasionally, his mother. The family scenes are especially memorable, with outstanding performances from Currin as the regretful, sometimes overbearing Amanda, and Teeter as the wistful, painfully shy Laura, who struggles with her own insecurities and everyone else’s expectations for her. Thomas is also strong as the personable, cheerful Jim, who forms a believable connection with Teeter’s Laura in some of the most captivating scenes in the play. This is a highly emotional play, and all of the performers convey those emotions truthfully and with power. 

This play, when done well, is one of those shows that can stay with a person for a while after they’ve seen it, like a vivid, lingering memory. And this production at TFSTL is done remarkably well. Sitting out in the open space behind the Tennessee apartment building in the CWE, the audience is put into the world of The Glass Menagerie, and with this cast and that stunning set and production values, it’s a world well worth visiting.

Chauncy Thomas, Elizabeth Teeter
Photo by ProPhotoSTL.com
Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis is presenting The Glass Menagerie at The Tennessee until August 29, 2021

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The Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Philip Boehm
Upstream Theater
April 30, 2016

Linda Kennedy, J. Samuel Davis Photo by ProPhotSTL.com Upstream Theater

Linda Kennedy, J. Samuel Davis
Photo by ProPhotSTL.com
Upstream Theater

Tennessee Williams, who is generally regarded as one of America’s greatest playwrights, spent a good deal of his formative years in St. Louis. According to the biographical note in the program for the latest Upstream Theater production, Williams did not enjoy those years. Regardless of his fondness for the city or lack thereof, he was able to use those difficult years as inspiration for several of his plays, including the masterpiece The Glass Menagerie, in which Williams explores issues of regret, disappointment, and unrealized dreams. It’s a melancholy character study with a vivid setting in the city Williams remembered well, if not too fondly. At Upstream, Williams’ celebrated classic is brought to life with heartbreaking clarity, thanks to excellent production values and some truly great performances.

The semi-autobiographical play is told in flashback. Inspired by Williams’ own life and family, The Glass Menagerie centers around the memories of the elderly Tom Wingfield (J. Samuel Davis), who looks back on his young adult years living with his mother, Amanda (Linda Kennedy) and sister Laura (Sydney Frasure) in a tiny apartment in St. Louis. As Tom steps back into the action of his own memory, the story reveals a family characterized by lost hope and denial. Amanda is a well-meaning woman who lives in the past, with unrealistic hopes for her shy daughter, who spends most of her time collecting glass figurines and looking through her high school yearbook. Tom just wants to get out of St. Louis and his stifling job at a factory so he can join the merchant marines and see the world. He indulges his mother’s request to find a “gentleman caller” for Laura by inviting an old high school friend (Jason Contini), who works at the factory and on whom Laura had once had a crush, over for dinner.

This play has been staged many times over the years, on Broadway, regionally and around the world. It’s a piece that’s been read in high school and college classes. It’s one of those plays that can easily be seen with a sense of “oh that’s a Great Play” and somewhat of detached air. There’s no detachment with Upstream’s production, however. It’s fresh and vibrant, and very St. Louis. The sights and sounds are authentic enough to believe this world, which also has a slight imaginary twist since it’s being narrated as a memory. The extreme attention to detail in the production values and the superb casting are what bring this production to life.

Speaking of casting, this production boasts three of the more celebrated performers in St. Louis theatre as well as a relative newcomer who is remarkably talented. These characters are living, breathing, thinking and feeling people, fully realized in these outstanding portrayals. Kennedy’s Amanda is well-meaning, but lives in a state of denial that is heightened in this production. Davis does an excellent job of portraying Tom at different ages, from the older, regretful man looking back, to the younger, disillusioned dreamer yearning for escape. Frasure is heartbreakingly authentic as Laura, portraying all her social awkwardness as well as her twin senses of regret for the past and a renewed hope that’s encouraged by her mother and aided–at least for a time–by the visit from Contini’s charmingly awkward, sweet but also regretful Jim. In fact, it’s the scenes between Laura and Jim that are the highlight of this show. Their chemistry is 100% believable, and it’s achingly affecting.

The production values here are also first-rate, with painstaking attention to detail from scenic designer Michael Heil’s authentic-looking St. Louis apartment, to the meticulously appropriate costumes by Laura Hanson, to Claudia Horn’s excellent props. The period detail is seen in everything from the furniture to the antique phonograph, to Laura’s vintage wicker wheelchair. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Steve Carmichael, and director Philip Boehm’s intelligent staging that emphasizes the closed-in feeling of the small apartment which amplifies the sense of a constricting society and social roles that the characters may feel forced to keep up.

The Glass Menagerie at Upstream is a memorable realization of a classic, performed in conjunction with the new Tennessee Williams Festival. It’s set in St. Louis’s past, but with its excellent cast and staging, the drama is very much of the moment. This is a truly transcendent, remarkable production.

Jason Contini, Sydney Frasure Photo by ProPhotoSTL.com Upstream Theater

Jason Contini, Sydney Frasure
Photo by ProPhotoSTL.com
Upstream Theater

Upstream Theater’s production of The Glass Menagerie is being presented at the Kranzberg Arts Center until May 15, 2016.

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