The poetry of the script of The Glass Menagerie is overshadowed by other elements of the play at CalShakes

Karen Aldridge as Amanda and Sean San Jose as Tom in CalShakes The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie: Drama by Tennessee Williams and directed by Lisa Portes. California Shakespeare Theater (CalShakes), Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda, CA. (just off Highway 24 at the California Shakespeare Theater Way/Wilder Rd. exit, one mile east of the Caldecott Tunnel.) July 5‐30, 2017

The poetry of the script of The Glass Menagerie is overshadowed by other elements of the play at CalShakes Rating: ★★★☆☆

California Shakespeare Theater is committed to employing actors of color in anachronistic renaissance plays and in diverse modern productions including British drawing room comedies. With this season dedicated to the theme of “Home”, they were inspired to mount Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie with a hispanic and black cast. Their political intentions are to be admired; the acting is excellent to adequate but the directing and staging undermine the total production.

Rather than the usual single-unit set that symbolizes entrapment that drives away Tom (the narrator and participant in the play), the award winning Latina director Lisa Portes starts with a bare stage. The furniture and props are on stage left and right. Along with sliding panels, they are wheeled on stage mostly by Tom. This diminishes the power of the dialogue. It is an idiosyncracy of designer Annie Smart to construct the set as Tom’s memories reconstruct the past.  

The dialog reflecting Williams’ poetic imagery is semi-autobiographical. The play is bookended with monologues by Tom and the final scene does not elicit the final pathos of the play. As written, that final scene should pack a torrent of feeling as Tom looks into a store window bemoaning the fact that Laura remains in his mind and asks her to blow out the candles.

71 years ago Laurette Taylor created a performance of Amanda Wingfield that became the standard to which every other actress who undertook the role has been measured. Helen Hayes, Jessica Tandy, Katherine Hepburn and Joanne Woodward took up the challenge and, according to reviews, met it. Karen Aldridge has put her own stamp on the role and brilliantly plays a domineering yet genteel woman. (She persistently insists that in her youth she had 17 gentlemen callers.)  Aldridge also displays the strong domineering personality that caused her husband to leave. (“He worked for the telephone company and fell in love with long distance.”)

Sean San Jose gives a strong performance but without the touch of a poet written in the script. This weakness is amplified as director Portes has him and later the gentleman caller Jim running up and down the aisles. These directorial conceits undercut the power of the play.

Phoebe Fico is a playwright who makes her acting debut in the role as Laura who is physically and mentally crippled and is described by her mother as “extremely shy.” Laura has created her own memory world with a collection of glass animals which she invests with human attributes. She also plays old music records and maintains paper files, the most significant of which is her High School Year Book. It is a very difficult role and it understandable that Fico struggles with it. There is no doubt that she will improve with each performance.

The gentleman caller, Jim O’Connor, is touchingly played by Rafael Jordan. Jim has his own memories of his glory days in high school. These Memories  are indelibly etched in Laura’s mind. The pas de deux for Laura and the Gentleman Caller performed in candle light is one of the highlights of the play.

The play is presented without intermission and lasts almost two hours. Opening night was balmy but be advised that the fog and wind can arise and warm clothing should be taken for that possibility.

CAST: Karen Aldridge as Amanda; Sean San Jose as Tom; Phoebe Fico as Laura; Rafael Jordan as Jim.

CREATIVE TEAM: Director Lisa Portes; Scenic designer Annie Smart; Costume designer Raquel Barreto; Lighting designer Xavier Pierce; Sound designer Brenden Aanes

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.