Friday, February 16, 2007

The Glass Menagerie (The SOB Review)

The Glass Menagerie (The SOB Review) - McGuire Proscenium Stage, Guthrie, Minneapolis, MN

***1/2 (out of ****)

No doubt, purists will lament that director Joe Dowling has taken too many liberties with Tennessee Williams' classic play The Glass Menagerie, which is currently playing a Guthrie stage. Given the play's semi-autobiographical depiction of Williams' own emancipation from the clutches of his mother, protestations over Dowling's artistic freedom may be a bit ironic.

For those who hold the original stagings of Williams' works sacrosanct, the most egregious element of this production may be found in Dowling's decision to split the Williamsesque Tom Wingfield in two. Randy Harrison portrays the younger Tom, while Bill McCallum takes on the older one. The latter not only serves as narrator, but essentially becomes a specter looking upon the proceedings much like the portrait of his long-deserted father hanging on the Wingfields' living room wall.

But if there's an actual force that lingers, even when she's not on the stage, it is Harriet Harris as Tom's manic mother Amanda. Given that Williams once sardonically referred to his mother as "a little Prussian officer in drag,” it takes a volcanic performance to make every seismic shift one to be feared. Harris erupts with a volatile mix of authentic neurosis and delusional charm to make you believe she understands the archetype Williams intended perfectly. An actor's actor if ever there was one, Harris masters this role with clarity and precision, even when she's not speaking a word. Hers is one of the best performances of the year.

There are other winning performances. Tracey Maloney imbues "crippled" daughter Laura with a haunting luminescence that shines as brilliantly as the light through one of her beloved glass figurines, particularly when she's caught up in the possibility that her love for Jim O'Connor might actually be reciprocated.

As the tender Jim, stunningly bereft of self-awareness, Jonas Goslow is a revelation. Once the ever-popular high school boy who could do no wrong, Jim now struggles to rebuild his sense of affable confidence after losing his way for reasons never enunciated. I've previously seen Goslow in Guthrie productions of The Real Thing and Hamlet, but this is the first time I've seen him so genuine and vulnerable.

For his part, McCallum offers a poignant take as the elder Tom that hints at the air of sophistication to come for this erstwhile "Shakespeare." Then there's Harrison's portrayal of the younger Tom. Often trying to find the appropriate voice for Tom, Harrison is all over the map -- literally. While Williams places this drama in St. Louis, Harrison's forced accent alternately sounds like it's from the Deep South or New England, with hints of New Orleans thrown in for good measure. Still, Harrison ably handles this pivotal role reasonably well, particularly in going toe-to-toe with Amanda.

There is much to recommend in Dowling's insightful, respectful and surprisingly entertaining production, and near as I can figure, none of Williams' beautifully poetic language has been altered. Certainly, sticklers may not approve of Dowling's dramatic tinkerings, but they've made for a very chilling evening that actually illuminate the darkest parts of Williams' soul. To me, that's the mark of a great production.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Harriet Harris To Headline Guthrie's Glass Menagerie (December 21, 2006)

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At 14 January, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

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