‘The Glass Mendacity” at Providence Players of Fairfax

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For a good time, call (703) 425-6782. That gets you the Providence Players of Fairfax’s reservations line, and this bedrock company of major-league players never disappoints.

Julie Janson, Craig Geoffrion, and Elizabeth Keith. Photo by Chip Gertzog.
Julie Janson, Craig Geoffrion, and Elizabeth Keith. Photo by Chip Gertzog.

The Glass Mendacity, written and conceived by Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth of Chicago’s Illegitimate Players circa 1989, is a mash-up of three of Tennessee Williams’ most enduring plays: The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. And at times it’s like overcooked grits.

Which is not to say that Director Jayne L. Victor, Producer Janet Bartelmay, Technical Director Chip Gertzog, six of the finest actors in town and a crackerjack crew don’t have another finely chiseled hit on their hands. They have squeezed every droplet of sweat and gag outta this mockery. They will coax plenty of knee-slapping, gum-swallowing, Heimlich-inducing moments for Williams fans, the theatrically uninitiated, and us hardened critics alike.

Yet even at a prestissimo 90 minutes, it feels a half-turn too long.

One can only imagine the rehearsals, with these smart-as-whips actors spoofing the spoof. But as much as their talents and thrill of performing are infectious for the audience, the gag at times wears thin.

First enters Mitch O’Connor, a genteel blend of the poker player from Streetcar, the gentleman caller/narrator from Menagerie, and possibly Doctor Baugh from Tin Roof (in lawyerly form); Amanda DuBois, who merges Menagerie’s smothering mother, Tin Roof’s tenacious Big Mama and a dash of Carol Burnett; Maggie the Cat, a scandalous mating of Stella and Maggie; Brick, Maggie’s Viagra-less husband; Blanche DuBois as herself, but looney-bin-seasoned; Stanley Kowalski, as howling and horny as ever; Big Daddy DuBois, the quintessential Southern patriarch; and Laura Dubois, the skittish innocent from Menagerie still unweaned from her mother.

Wait, that’s eight characters … six actors …? It’s hard for the audience to keep track, and on opening night one misflung “Blanche!” that was supposed to be a “Laura!” (not a “Stella!” but oh well) was hardly noticeable as our heads were spinning like a cartoon character slapped silly.

Beth Whitehead and Michael Donahue. Photo by Chip Gertzog.
Beth Whitehead and Michael Donahue. Photo by Chip Gertzog.

But amid the muddled malarkey, each actor shines. Beth Whitehead as a bombastic Amanda, balances the menagerie on her head – is it muskrat, ferret or piggy? – and displays an accomplished array of skills like a splaying church fan or winning poker hand. Elizabeth Keith pitches Blanche somewhere between drama queen and Southern bellyacher, but with sugary charm. Ian Wade is a charismatic and austere Mitch. As soon as Michael Donahue muscles in as deliciously coarse Stanley, the place pulsates with his energy. But I think my favorite portrayals were Craig Geoffrion’s Big Daddy – he had more honest reverence for the material, delivering his “mendacity of hope” soliloquy like a sermon and never descending into goofiness – and Julie Janson, whose Maggie seemed to have ALL the best lines … or maybe she simply managed to deliver each one like a succulent pearl, feverishly, feministically and flawlessly. She’s also a very fine and comedic ventriloquist.

It’s Tennessee Williams for Dummies, but the set design by Raedun de Alba is as smart as they come – incorporating the Menagerie curtain and grave portrait, a cooler for both ice and “glass,” a porta-potty (what?!), Chinese lantern … well, it’s a hodgepodge that befits the inside-jokey show and with enough of the eye candy that PP is famous for. Lighting design by Chip Gertzog is especially affecting – from a fire escape to sun-drenched window, he puts the function in dysfunctional.

The cast of 'The Glass Mendacity.' Photo by Chip Gertzog.
The cast of ‘The Glass Mendacity.’ Photo by Chip Gertzog.

As each line gets twisted – some hitting their mark and others groaners, such as Blanche Dubois’ overly built-up, “I have always depended on the quality of strangeness” — loyal patrons will remember that they can always depend on the high quality of PPF productions, even if the material seems low-brow.

So let Providence Players of Fairfax mix you something light and fizzy for summer, manic and mellifluous, Southern and saucy – and guaranteed to “giddi-fy.”

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

PPF The Glass Mendacity 728 by 90 thru 6-13-15

The Glass Mendacity plays through June 13, 2015 at The Providence Players of Fairfax performing at The James Lee Community Center Theater — 2855 Annandale Road, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call (703) 425-6782, or by purchase them online.

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