Marin Theatre Company’s brilliant presentation of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” is a win-win for all.
Audiences, whether new to the play or veteran fans of the 1944 work, should rejoice in director Jasson Minadakis’ “re-imagined” production.
It’s often a tricky business putting on an acclaimed classic for today’s viewers. Productions typically fail when the director’s self-regard gets ahead of the work’s inherent value.
But Minadakis’ respect for the author shows. As he goes deep into the text to bring out aspects of the play seldom highlighted, he triumphs.
Williams’ most autobiographical and achingly poignant play is about Tom (Williams’ name before he adopted “Tennessee”) Wingfield, his mother, Amanda, and his sister, Laura.
Affecting and powerful, the characters and situations in “Menagerie” are straight out of Williams’ life: an absent father; a loud, dominating, erratic “Southern belle” mother; a fragile, handicapped sister (in real life, Rose, a withdrawn and schizophrenic young woman who eventually was institutionalized).
The production’s highly stylized look and feel — a bare stage under tangled fire escapes and catwalks, a picture of the absent father replaced by a trumpet player (Andrew Wilke, playing Chris Houston’s atmospheric music throughout the play) and one glass figurine instead of a cabinet full — curiously enhance the hard edges of the play, which too often is sentimentalized.
The reality of the Depression, and the family’s intense and claustrophobic love-and-hate, pressure-cooker relations, replace the wistful atmosphere of traditional productions.
The concept comes from Williams’ opening words: “I turn back time, I reverse it to that quaint period, the ’30s, when the huge middle class of America was matriculating in a school for the blind. Their eyes had failed them, or they had failed their eyes, and so they were having their fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet of a dissolving economy.”
Marin Theatre’s cast is stellar, starting with the exemplary Nicholas Pelczar as Tom — narrator, hero (albeit with feet of clay) and Williams’ regretful alter ego. Everything that happens onstage powerfully comes through his eyes and words.
Sherman Fracher’s Amanda manages to be a stationary whirlwind. Fussing, mothering, worrying, annoying and embarrassing, she loves too much, and not too well.
As Laura, Anna Bullard gives a truly memorable performance in the difficult role of a physically and mentally crippled young woman, a gentle, lovable creature imprisoned by lurking, increasing psychosis. She almost never speaks (when she does, it’s a torturous effort), so the central character must make her presence known through body language.
Bullard is mesmerizing. In the scene when Laura meets her first and last “gentleman caller” (played with wonderful bluster and studied suavity by Craig Marker), a loving pathos permeates the theater.
Despite Minadakis’ welcome attempt to limit sentimentality, in the end, Williams, Bullard and catharsis prevail.
The Glass Menagerie
Presented by Marin Theatre Company
– Where: 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley
– When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Saturdays; 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 18
– Tickets: $34 to $44
– Contact: (415) 388-5208, www.marintheatre.org