A Mother's Love
MPC's The Glass Menagerie is an emotional and technical triumph.
Thursday, October 16, 2003
Photo: Family Dinner: Laura (Dawn Flood, right) considers the gentleman caller (Justin Gordon, center) her family has sent her.
When is a revival of classic American theater more classic than the original? MPC''s theater department has found an answer to this riddle with its production of The Glass Menagerie, which closes this weekend on the Morgan Stock Stage.
For this excellent production, director Peter DeBono has returned to Tennessee Williams'' original script and resurrected its stillborn screen device cues, the screen-projected words and images used to highlight characters thoughts, dreams and select lines of dialogue. Scrapped before the play''s 1945 premiere in New York and never used in any subsequent professional production, these projected images float through DeBono''s production like ghosts.
In his production notes, Williams insists he did not regret the producers'' and director''s decision to omit the projections, as the power of the play was best delivered amid "utmost simplicity." He wrote this, of course, after Menagerie had already become a hit and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, circumstances which no doubt made the omission of his innovative cues easier to digest.
This month, DeBono and his fine cast have proven that Williams'' original vision neither intrudes upon nor diminishes the extraordinary emotional force of Menagerie. On the contrary, the projections are a wonderful, unobtrusive complement to this play of memory.
Confined within William Strom''s sepia-print set design on the MPC stage, the Wingfield family''s story of heartbreaking dysfunction unfolds. As the three Wingfields perform their restrained and brutal push-pull dance with one another, the projections hint at interior landscapes--blue roses, a swarm of typewriters, a high school football hero.
DeBono and Strom have interpreted Williams'' cues with style and grace, perhaps even improving on them. Where the script calls for the image of a pirate ship, DeBono and Strom have opted for a film publicity shot of Errol Flynn from The Seahawk, a clever comment on son Tom''s character.
Greg Falge plays Tom like a retreating reflection of his mother Amanda, mirroring her histrionics while distancing himself from her with every scene. Framing the story with Williams'' fiercely poetic narration before disappearing into the action himself, Falge passes between the worlds of his memory seamlessly. His delivery fluctuates between sardonic disaffection and adolescent whine as he is whipped back and forth between manhood and boyhood by Amanda''s manipulations.
As Amanda, the displaced and aging Southern belle who controls her adult children''s lives by verbally flogging them with her own insecurities, Mary Ann Schaupp is spellbinding. She wounds her children in poised, frenetic bursts. She is like a clenched fist in a tattered white satin glove, alternately clutching and slapping her offspring.
Schaupp conveys a woman keenly aware of the consequences of her vicious words yet unable to control herself. Possessed by disappointment, she hovers around her son as if he is about to disappear in a poof of smoke at any moment. Later, when her protective shield of prattle and bad advice is stripped away, she is heartbreaking, as when she sells a magazine subscription by telephone and cries, "Bless you, bless you!" into the receiver.
To play the crippled and pathologically shy daughter Laura, Dawn Flood hunches, nearly turning in on herself to convey her character''s self-consciousness; yet at times her voice''s power contrasts sharply with the meek girl we see on stage. Her best moments are not as the paralytic introvert, but when she shows glimpses of self-esteem. Alone, standing before a mirror wearing a padded bra under her dress, she unfolds and straightens like one of her mother''s jonquils.
As the gentleman caller, Justin Gordon lends Jim O''Connor more of a conscience than Williams afforded him in the script. His final exit is no jaunty, grinning departure, but an excruciating slink into the shadows of the alley.
Underscored by a haunting refrain of harp scales, a soprano saxophone, and a quavering progression of chords, the musical landscape of MPC''s Menagerie is strongly cinematic and highlights both the action and the projections nicely.