Time is the longest distance between two points; between the beginning of a tale and the end of one, and Everyman Theatre sets out to find a time gone by in The Glass Menagerie as they open their 2013/2014 season. Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi, this visually stunning rendition of the Tennessee Williams’ classic unearths the dynamic duality of the fragile character of Laura; juxtaposing how the family, and ultimately Williams, sees her against how she truly exists in reality. True to the play’s nature, as described in Tom’s prologue, this production features the muted lighting and subtle underscoring of music; a retelling of memory; a surreal and engaging masterpiece.
While Tom may tell us in his exposition that the proverbial fifth character is the portrait of the father, he should make mention that the extra character is actually the gorgeous, extravagant set created by Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger. Taking thematic cues directly from the text, Ettinger cultivates a complex, multi-level playing space that contains two separate lively pulses of energetic life. The intricate design of the wending steps of the fire escape and the business of the plethora of windows reflects the wild adventurous life that Tom so desperately seeks outside of the apartment while the interior design, with simple furnishings and muted tones augments the stagnant life that keeps all of Williams’ characters tethered to monotony. Ettinger’s use of a sliding lace veil to separate the front sitting room from the dining room is another brilliant creation that adds layers of thematic intricacy to the overall design.
Lighting Designer Jay H. Herzog and Sound Designer Chas Marsh working in tandem, create a stimulating aesthetic throughout the production. Marsh’s orchestrations that underscore the scenes are sublime, particularly the delicate tinkling of the piano whenever Laura is featured. There are picturesque moments created with Laura bathed in soft light, polishing her glass collection with Marsh’s music highlighting just how fragile both she and the little menagerie truly are. Herzog’s designs create parallels between Tom as the narrator and Tom as a character in the scene, specific levels of brightness used to distinguish both. Herzog imbues his light work with emotions, furthering the complexity of the show’s themes.
Director Vincent M. Lancisi brings a fresh perspective to the frequently done play, showcasing Williams’ characters in new lights. His vision for Laura (Sophie Hinderberger) is his most impressive approach to the show. When she is first encountered in the house with only Amanda and Tom present – she is demure, almost beautiful in appearance and her limp is so understated that it’s almost not there. The genius in this directorial move is that later in the second half of the show Lancisi allows her to be seen for what she truly is: awkward, terribly shy, and limping quite severely with a heavy clunk in her step. This sharp contrast of characterization is the epitome of the dichotomy of Williams’ feeble glass girl, seen by her family as perfectly ordinary and sweet, but in reality quite deeply damaged and unusual.
Lancisi’s visionary ideas involve turning Williams’ work into a production that is occasionally punctuated by living still frame moments; like human photographs unfurling in slow motion between moments of dialogue and action. Again this happens frequently with Hinderberger’s character, especially when the argument initially breaks out between Tom and Amanda. They begin fighting behind the lacy veil downstage while Laura is featured in silence upstage in front of the chaise, polishing her glass, awash in gentle light and underscored with the dulcet piano tones. This incredible moment of focus shifts the story as if it were her own rather than Tom’s; a wildly imaginative way to present both the character and the plot as a whole.
A sprightly jim-dandy character blossoms in the second part of the show with the chipper arrival of the gentleman caller Jim (Matthew Schleigh). Creating tender moments between himself and Hinderberger, particularly when recollecting his glory days with the school yearbook, he’s the polished vision of a ‘golly gosh’ good gentleman, even when delivering a startling blow to Laura, so much so that you almost feel sorry for him. He’s congenial and eases his presence into the lives of the Wingfields as if he’s always belonged there; a close friend of the glass-like family. His polite speech patterns are second only to Amanda’s southern hospitality and he makes for a refreshing splash of charm in the latter portion of the play.
Vivacious as her jonquils, the matriarch of the Wingfield family is Amanda (Deborah Hazlett). Delivering indefatigable energy, Hazlett carries the character high up over the moon of Blue Mountain and straight into orbit. A wildly engaging and compelling woman, albeit on the edge of what some might consider sanity, Hazlett is forever present in every moment, even grounding her nostalgic ramblings as if they had happened but moments ago. Hazlett’s ability to cultivate imagery in her dialogue is astounding. She paints such a vivid picture of each individual gentleman caller when she begins to wax poetic on the fond recollections of her seventeen that she received all in one day from a time in her youth. Driving a great deal of Tom’s conflict, Hazlett reacts with a natural level of spastic emotions; mingling deeply insecure fears of the future with her ‘mother knows best’ fury to make for a gripping series of spats between her and her son.
Taking on the main role of Tom, as himself in the play and as the narrative force that guides the show, Clinton Brandhagen is a sensation beyond words. His interactions with each of the other three characters in the show are shatteringly realistic, living each moment fully and presently. He even has a casually languid relationship with the set; moving about on the fire escape as if it is his only means of escape to a world beyond what strangles his hopes and dreams.
Brandhagen draws a severe contrast between his narrative character and his ‘in-scene’ character while still maintaining a drastic similarity to them. His ability to calmly express the life he longs for is smooth and serene while his moments of emotional outburst are the extreme opposite, at the top of his lungs and emotional expressivity. His ‘warehouse’ speech, which involves a great deal of physical movement all over the interior of the set (including up on the very lovely furniture) is so raw that its bombastic and abrasive in its nature; really showing the audience the depths of his torment. Brandhagen is exceptional in this iconic literary role; providing depth and reality to this dual character; a remarkable performance with an exceptional supporting cast.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.