Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Glass Menagerie

Last night was the opening of The Kavinoky's production of Tennessee Williams' THE GLASS MENAGERIE. He is one of my favorite playwrights and it is one of my favorite plays. To say that I've been looking forward to this production would be an understatement. Although I'm always excited for a show to open at "my" theatre (I should say almost always...I could have done without a few of them), I really think that this production GLASS is the best one I've ever seen.

Let me just tell you that Paul Todaro is the perfect Tom. When he was first cast I have to say I didn't "see" it...not that I would ever doubt Paul's acting abilities, I just mean that I didn't visualize him in the role. (I don't know why...there isn't really a Tom-type. I just picture Tennessee Williams playing the role, I guess.) Paul is wonderful! He gets the play. He knows that Tom is telling a story and that he's remembering things...he's not, necessarily, "living them" for the first time. I've seen other Toms playing two separate characters, I see Paul playing Tom the storyteller who happens to fill in for Tom the son (Did that make any sense to you? Have you ever read the play? Should I elaborate as best I can? OK...let me try:)

THE GLASS MENAGERIE is a play in the truest sense. In Tom's opening monologue, he tells us exactly what we're going to see...similar to watching a magician. He says, "[A magician] gives your illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion." Tennessee Williams sets the tone immediately: this is a play. Tom is "setting the stage" most literally...then he eventually meanders into the memory-action. He is always aware though. Not that the things he's doing on stage are false, that's not what I'm trying to say. What I'm trying to say is, I have a perfect example:

You're sitting at a bar with a friend of yours and you're trying to tell a story about what happened to you yesterday. Although you're not travelling back in time and reliving those events, you can't help but get a bit caught up in them. That's kind of what happens with Tom in GLASS: he is telling a story and, in doing so, he gets caught up in what he remembers.

I have never seen this more accurately portrayed than by Paul (I've seen the play 5 times.) Throughout the course of the play you remember that he is telling a story even when he's "reliving" his memories. Granted, the playwright has a lot to do with does the set and the director. But even with the words written in stone, with the same set and the same director, I wonder if I'd like the play as much were it not for Paul.

You see...sometimes the "actor playing the Tom who is telling the story" doesn't play the same Tom when he's reliving it. He plays an ak-tour...who then plays a realistic scene. I don't doubt for a moment that the narrator of the play is the same Tom we see in the scenes. That's my point.

OK, this was totally not meant to be an ode to Paul Todaro. I just wanted to explain what I meant about him being the best Tom I've seen so far...I don't want any of you to think that I'm kissing up...I had to justify my remarks (or at least I thought I did.)

As for the rest of the cast, I can tell you that they're all top-notch. Anne Gayley plays Amanda. At first I thought (and I'm being completely honest with you) that she was a bit too old. I love Anne, don't mistake me. She is one of my most favorite people. I just thought that this role was a bit young for her. I was pleasantly mistaken. The Amanda we see in Act One is the perfect Amanda. (By the way, who said that Amanda has to be younger than Anne? Nobody. I was wrong.) The Act Two Amanda is most appropriately pathetic. (Again, I don't want to tell the story...I'm assuming that if you've read this far you know the play. I'm just commenting. If you don't know what I'm talking about, read the play and then re-read this post.) Anne is wonderful.

Katie White was born to play this role. I saw her do it nearly 10 years ago at Buffalo State with Oasis Theatre Company. I remember loving her then too...but not as much as I did last night. This production is much fresher in my head, mind you. There is such a possibility that the actress playing Laura will over-do-it. That she'll exaggerate her limp, or play stupid, or be shy around her family. Most shy people are only shy around people they don't know well. Most of the shy people I know well aren't even shy towards me. Katie plays Laura perfectly. You don't really even feel too sorry for her...until you're supposed to. I've seen Lauras who are pathetic for pathetic's sake...Katie is smack-dab right on. We understand where her Laura is coming from. Lovely.

Now. Joe Wiens. Since I'm being completely honest right now I have to tell you that I did not think I was going to like him in this. Although I thought he gave a great audition, I didn't think he had the "chops". (I'm not a theatre expert nor do I profess that I would ever have "chops"...I just call 'em as I see 'em.) Again, I was wrong. And I am so happy to say that I was wrong. I have seen Joe Wiens in musicals and I saw him in Celadine (he was a mute). I didn't have much to base my acting opinion on. Gentleman Caller. His Jim is the perfect Jim. You know his Jim. You went to high school with his Jim. You can totally relate to his Jim. We've all seen productions of this play where a hunky, dim-wit is cast as the Gentleman Caller. In a way, we all think: he's just pretending to be nice to Laura; he just kissed Laura to make her feel good; maybe he's lying about Betty just so he can get out of the house. I don't think any of these things are true and neither will you when you see Joe's Jim. When he says "I shouldn't have done that" you can hear that, although he's right, he's kinda glad that he did.

Loved the play. Loved the actors. I didn't even mention Bob Waterhouse's direction...directors always get short-handed. have to see it. You must. I know..."I've seen THE GLASS MENAGERIE so many times." Well, first off - I don't believe you. Many people think they've seen it just because they read it in high school. Secondly, even if you have "seen it so many times" you've never seen it done as well as this. Honestly.

"Blow out your candles" and get your ass over to the Kav before December 10th.

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