A great interest of mine in theater is accessibility, so I was extremely excited to hear about a new opportunity at Hennepin Theatre Trust with the tour of The Lion King that will be playing there starting July 5th. On July 30th at 2pm, a sensory-friendly performance will be offered, geared towards patrons with sensory, social, and learning disabilities, particularly those on the autism spectrum, and their friends and family. Minneapolis is only the fifth city to provide such a performance for the tour (including New York, Boston, Houston, and Pittsburgh) and it’s the first time such a show has come on a Broadway tour in Minnesota.
Accommodations in this performance includes:
house lights left at a low level
designated quiet spaces and activity areas, as well as standing and movement accessibility throughout the theater
lower sound levels (especially for loud and sudden/startling sounds)
trained volunteers and professionals on hand
sensory objects including fidgets, earplugs, and noise-cancelling earmuffs available
Theater should be accessible to everyone and I love that “traditional” presentations of theater are being adapted and changed to be more open and accepting to audiences who are neurodivergent. Sitting in a dark room, in small spaces with loud noises is not everyone’s ideal way to watch a show and offering different ways to experience theater – especially for children – is a wonderful way to broaden a patron’s experiences and introduced them to theater, broaden a theater’s audience base, and broaden the experience of other patrons to a larger community in the theater. If you or someone you know are interested in seeing this performance, tickets can be purchased at HTT’s page for the performance, which also includes more information about the services offered. Hopefully we’ll see more performances like these, both here in the Twin Cities and nation-wide!
As it’s Pride Week here in the Twin Cities, what better show to see right now than Le Switch at the Jungle Theater? A new play that is experiencing a rolling debut, having been first performed in Chicago and now here (where it got its start at the Playwrights Center PlayLabs), this comedy deals with romance right on the brink of the monumentous legislation of marriage equality. David (Kasey Mahaffy) is librarian who loves to categorize subjects but struggles to categorizing himself, finding he is straddling different things in his life. As his best friend Zachary (Michael Wieser) is about to get married and plans his bachelor party in Montreal, David as best man struggles to understand why people want to get married while his sister Sarah (Emily Gunyou Halaas) admits she has fallen in love with her husband – a green card marriage of convenience that has become far more. While in Montreal, David decides to make it up to Zachary after having an argument about the wedding and buys flowers from florist Benoit (Michael Hanna). David falls head over heels for Benoit and ends up spending the entire day with him. Guided by his family and friends, especially his roommate Frank (Patrick Bailey) who is still mourning his deceased partner and supports the idea that marriage may not be for everyone, David struggles through learning French, tackling cultural and personal differences, and mental blocks in order to have a relationship with Benoit and ultimately try to answer, “What is it about?”
This show is wickedly funny, clever, and poignant. It was hard for me, after Orlando, to not take every moment with a little bit deeper meaning. While this show feels like a rom-com, it has a much more complex and philosophical root. David has learned to identify as the kid who disappointed his parents, while his twin Sarah was successful. Identifying himself as weird and abnormal, a failure of sorts, David has learned to accept that marriage is not for him because it represents what is normal, be it heteronormative or the traditional idea of success. Because David is not these things, he cannot accept that marriage is an option. However, it also prevents him from allowing himself to feel he deserves a loving relationship and he continues to push out anything “good and perfect” in his life. Instead of learning to learn new ways of success, he accepts that the traditional routes are the only option and keeps certain doors closed, as he refuses to open his antique books. Benoit challenges him to live different and to find other options.
What this play succeeds in (in terms of conversation about the LGBTQA community) is recognizing that not all people in the community think alike. They don’t all feel the same way about marriage. They don’t have the same experiences being gay or coming out or how and what they choose to embrace what identifies them as who they are. Through differences in age and generation, there are different attributes and ideas on what it means to be a member of the queer community. Though a great deal of support is shown for marriage as a positive outcome, its struggles are shown with Zachary and Franks reminds that it may not be for everyone. But the play does show that it is one answer and, though it looks different for everyone, it is another way to express love. I really enjoyed the writing of this piece, focusing on switching and being caught between ideas, especially in how lines switched between people – the idea of “It doesn’t matter/Everything matters” getting passed around and the layers that “classification” carried with it throughout the piece. Though this piece is not radical or extremely diverse in terms of race or gender, it does provide a more nuanced representation than must media surrounding the LGBTQA community and one with a great deal of sincerity.
The aesthetics of the piece are also captivating – the hyper-real moments that flow almost cinematically as Benoit performs an almost ballet to arrange a bouquet to the Flower Duet from Lakme, lighting a cigarette in slow-motion, the repetitions of “La Vie en Rose” throughout, the moments of a librarian and a florist falling in love a long a canal. All of this is conveyed through the brilliant, fluid set design of Kate Sutton-Johnson, stunning lighting (that moves seamlessly between club scenes, New York apartments, and Montreal mountains) by Barry Browning, complex and gorgeous sound design by Sean Healey, beautiful, detailed costumes by Moria Sine Clinton, and clever, coordinated directing by Jeremy B. Cohen. Also I appreciated how much focus was put on the dialect and language by the cast and vocal coach Keely Wolter. The French spoken by Hanna sounded authentic and spoken with ease (and personally reminded me of my French teacher from high school, who was Minnesotan but could speak French without an American accent).
Most of all, what I liked about this play was that it was hopeful. After Orlando (and the other mess of events this week), the world looks bleak. A play that is heart-warming, uplifting, and provides hope for different ways of living and different ways of community is something I think we all need right now.
Le Switch is written by Philip Dawkins and directed by Jeremy B. Cohen. It is playing now through July 31st at the Jungle Theater. Show and ticket information can be found on the Jungle’s website.
And for those of you who might be interested in some of the issues touched upon in the play, check out these books which I’ve encountered in some of my studies/research:
Virtuous Vice: Homoeroticism and the Public Sphere by Eric O. Clarke – discusses ways in representations of queer culture fall short and how inclusion only accepts a small aspect of homosexuality.
The Queer Art of Failure by Jack (formerly Judith) Halberstam – discusses alternatives to the narratives of success and finding positivity in difference and failure.
Jason Robert Brown is one of my favorite musical composers of the 21st Century and I’m delighted that his 2014 Tony- Award winning musical The Bridges of Madison County has stopped in Minneapolis on its national tour. Winner for best score in 2014, this musical with music and lyrics by Brown and book by Marsha Norman tells the story of Francesca (Elizabeth Stanley), a war bride from Naples, Italy, discontent with her life on an Iowa farm. While her children Michael (John Campione, Bryan Welnicki in the performance I saw) and Carolyn (Caitlin Houlahan) prepare to go to the Indiana State Fair to hopefully win a blue ribbon for their prize steer, Francesca is homesick and feeling distant from her husband, Bud (Cullen R. Titmas) and from a farming life that she never envisioned for herself. Enters Robert (Andrew Samonsky), a photographer from the National Geographic who’s come to town to take photos of a covered bridge that’s a local landmark. Francesca drives him to the bridge and, while watching him take photos and hearing him recount his travels in Naples, she falls in love with him. Amidst phone calls from nosy neighbors Charlie and Marge (David Hess and Mary Callanan) and her husband calling to check on her, Francesca has a four-day affair with Robert that reawakens the person she once was and causes her to question whether she is leading the life she really wants.
Based on the novel by Robert James Waller (and known for the film directed by Clint Eastwood), this musical does an exceptional job of adapting the tale. Though I’m not as familiar with the source (I was born in 1990 so I missed its high point of popularity by being too young), I am familiar with the general story and am impressed how the staging delicately balances the internal struggle of the characters. All the actors do an excellent job and I was especially enthused to see Samonsky perform, as he was recently in La Jolla Playhouse’s adaption of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which I’m a little obsessed with). Stanley’s portrayal of Francesca was also lovely and I was particularly pleased to hear an Italian accent on stage that more or less sounded accurate (and after hearing accents like those in The Most Happy Fella, this is much appreciated change.)
The story itself is an interesting one, a different look at an affair that doesn’t just show guilt but presents the sudden romance as understandable. In his notes on the show, Jason Robert Brown says, “We can love in many different ways, and we can love different things simultaneously. It is hard – it is insane – to place one love above another.” The show grapples beautifully with that struggle, showing Francesca’s inability to leave her family but her inability to stop feeling what she does for Robert. Though this may feel comfortable or comforting for our cultural perceptions of monogamy or relationships, it does provide a powerful look at the question of “What if?”
Though the emotional intensity isn’t as high as I desired it to be throughout the entire show, the performance of “It All Fades Away” is absolutely marvelous. “Another Life,” a piece in which Marian (Katie Klaus) sings in an unknown place about what her ex-husband Robert might be doing now, while in this same moment he falls in love with Francesca, is beautiful, especially given how the characters interact in the space, walking to their locations by crossing through the farm house, like ghosts in the room or thoughts projected by the other characters into physical form. Best of all are the amazing orchestrations of this piece, with a haunting cello solo at the opening and close of the show and some fantastic guitar work. Brown describes that, “The piano reflects my energy back at me, neurotic and complicated – I know the instrument so well by now that I sometimes have to wrestle with it to make it surprise me, and I knew that the skittery and dense music that the piano and I traditionally made together wasn’t the right sound for this piece.” I agree with him – the timbre of the guitar perfectly captures the world this story takes place in and the romantic, whirlwind summer romance expressed throughout. It’s no wonder that this show won a Tony for best score. Under the musical direction of Tom Murray and Keith Levenson, the orchestra becomes the heart of the piece, keeping Robert and Francesca’s romance alive even when they must part. And given the photographic elements of the show, the lighting design by Donald Holder is particularly wonderful, dramatically showing sunrises and sunsets and the shifting perspectives of the characters.
I greatly enjoyed this show (despite some distraction audience behavior around me) and, while I did wish for something more – whether it be in emotional engagement or just wanting to know more of the story (why did Francesca never contact Robert again? Why did he never contact her? Why did people seem to like Bud when I disliked his character quite a bit?) – this a wonderful romance to enjoy on a summer evening. Catch it if you can!
Mu Performing Arts is producing the world premiere of tot: The Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (a Filipino) Hulk Hogan. Following the story of nine year old Tot (Randy Reyes), who moves from his life in the Philippines with his grandmother Lola (Mary Ann Prado) to live with his parents in the US. His parents (Hope Nordquist, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil) are distant to their son, favoring the younger child Kitty (Stephanie Bertumen) that Tot has never met. Using his interest in wresting to help cope with being in a new culture and, essentially, a new family, Tot uses his interest in wrestling to weave his own story into that of the fictitious Orbiter (Torsten Johnson), a Hulk Hogan-like character who overcomes obstacles to be powerful and successful, aided by Chorus members (Michelle de Joya and Kyle Legacion) to provide context and commentary.
Knowing little about wresting, I enjoyed the exploration of the performative nature of the sport and the ways in which Tot adapted the stories told in the ring to better understand his own situation. The unique storytelling and great acting work together to make a new, fascinating work. At times, this show confused me and I felt a bit lost. I wasn’t sure if the sequences with the Orbiter were meant to be glimpses of the wrestling Tot was watching on TV or imagined sequences. It became clearer when the Orbiter’s story began to mirror Tot’s (aided by the double casting of the actors) and the confusion could be intentional, to emphasize how interwoven the tales of these muscular men have become in Tot’s narrative. The distance that Tot struggles with, not only being an immigrant in a new places but a child that does not fit into family he belongs to, is especially powerful. Reyes’ embodiment of a child is spot-on and humorous, but also painful as he confusion leads to aggression that he takes out on his sister. Despite the aggression, he also has moments of connection with Kitty and the she understands him in a way his parents cannot. Balancing between humor and sadness, this performance went to a darker level that I was not expecting, gesturing towards abuse that Tot faces from his aggressive father. These aspects were very difficult for me to watch, especially given the discussions of hyper-masculinity in both culture and in theater right now (I’m thinking of Orland as well as the situation at Profiles Theater in Chicago). This is not at all a fault of the production but an issue with my own sensitivity, and no show exists in a vacuum, causing performances look different depending where one’s mind is.
Based on what I’ve heard from my friends over at Cherry and Spoon and MN Theater Love after they saw tot, I think a wide variety of reactions are to be expected with this show – as should be with any show, really. For me, this is a show I’d have to see more than once to really appreciate. As I spent much of the time getting a grasp of what was going on (partially, I’m sure, due to exhaustion from a frantic day at work beforehand), there are greater nuances that I likely missed focusing so much on plot. I did enjoy design of the theater, using the Boss Stage at Park Square, as a wrestling ring with seating all around. I sat in the bleacher seats behind the stage and loved seeing the performance from that angle. As with every new play, I’m sure there are things that could be tightened up and clarified. But sometimes, theater isn’t easy to watch and it’s nice to have a show that challenges the audience and disrupts traditional storytelling methods. tot is such a show and one that’s worth taking a chance on, to support new work, a wonderful local theater company, and stories that often go overlooked, such as Tot’s wondrous, wacky wrestling tale.
tot is directed by Randy Rayes and written by Victor Maog. It is playing now through June 26th on Park Square’s Andy Boss Thrust. Show and ticket information can be found on Mu Performing Art’s website.
I must admit that this is the first production by Transatlantic Love Affair that I’ve seen. And wow, have I been missing out. A retelling of the story of selkies in folktales, this performance focuses on a small fishing town where fisherman have been known to catch seals which transform into beautiful women. One such fisherman (Diogo Lopes) catches a selkie (Emily King) and loses her seal skin, preventing her from returning to the sea. Homesick, the fisherman takes her in and she tries to adapt to a life on land. Through a wonderful ensemble of Heather Bunch, Alex Hathaway, Adelin Phelps, Allison Witham, and Derek Lee Miller as the Narrator, a beautiful story unfolds that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
One of the most marvelous things about this production is how the storytelling is conveyed. There are no props, no outside sound effects. All music and sound is produced by the actors, either through Miller’s performance on the accordion (and using the instrument to make airy sounds of ocean waves, which I found really stunning) or through vocalizations and effects made by the actor’s. This piece also focuses largely on movement, using different postures and body language to convey different characters in the ensemble as well as King’s switch from Anna (the Selkie) as human and Anna in her seal-form. Choreography is used to mimic the movements of the sea, the ebbing of the tide, seals basking on the beach, and everyday life in the small village. This allows most of the story to take place in the imagination of the audience and left me feeling as if I had actually seen the sea rising and falling, experienced the transition of a selkie moving between human and seal forms, and knew exactly what this little fishing village looked like. And all this through the movement and emotions conveyed by the actors. Along with lighting design by Mike Wangen that highlights the mood of the sea versus the village and the selkie’s internal struggle and consuming by Anna Reichert that allows for easy movement and subtly emphasizes the ensemble’s characters, this piece is utterly breathtaking. So much of this piece works because of timing – having lighting shifts line up perfectly with sounds made by actors or their movements, keeping the choreography consistent and making it feel believable. The ensemble does this marvelously and I left the theater thinking I could actually smell a hit of salt and seaweed in the air.
I’m a fan of anything that includes a retelling of mythology or folktale with folk music and beautiful storytelling, so I absolutely adore this show. I’m utterly blown away by this performance and can’t wait to see another Transatlantic Love Affair production soon.
Before I begin this review, I’d like to share a bit of my personal experience to frame my viewing of this show. I was born in Indiana, in the southern part of the state, then moved north when my dad quit his job and started grad school. My mom and I spent two years living in trailer on a lake in rural Indiana that had once belonged to my paternal grandparents while my dad attended school at Ball State. As my mother drove me to school every day in Warsaw (which was about a twenty minute drive), I would see abandoned houses in the overgrown fields, begin to decay and run into ruin. I always wondered what had happened there and why there were abandoned, sometimes creating stories to make answers of my own.
Sam Shepard’s Buried Child feels like one of those answers in the most nightmarish of possibilities. Set in rural Illinois in an old farm house where the fields have long since gone fallow, Dodge (Terry Hempleman) is confined to a couch in the sitting room, suffering from some unknown illness and watching baseball while upstairs, his wife Halie (Barbra Berlovitz) prattles on about the weather, Dodge’s health, and a son of theirs who had died. Leaving to talk to their church pastor about how to commemorate their son, Halie leaves Dodge in the care of his two sons, Tilden (Brian Goranson) and Bradley (Paul de Cordova). Tilden, who previously lived in New Mexico, had returned after running into some “very bad trouble” and is now living with his parents, sneaking outside to enjoy the weather and bring back vegetables that seem to mysteriously be growing in the field. Bradley, eerie and bully-ish, arrives to cut his father’s hair while he is asleep, shaving his head entirely. The brothers hate each other for unknown reasons and Dodge insults them and doubts their legitimacy as his sons. While he is sleeping and the brothers are gone, Tilden’s sone Vince (Matthew Englund) and his girlfriend Shelly (Charlotte Calvert) stop by the farmhouse. They are on their way to New Mexico to visit Tilden, believing him to still be there, and Vince is convinced he should stop by the old farmhouse, reconnect with his grandparents, and celebrate the old times. But he returns to far different situation where no one knows who he is and seems lost in a world that is void of reason and disconnected from anything that Shelly or Vince can understand. By the time Halie returns with Father Dewis (Leif Jurgensen), confusion is rampant, Vince has disappeared, and Dodge is on the brink of sharing a terrible secret that reveals what’s really out in the cornfield and the true darkness simmering under the surface of what once appeared to be a “Rockwell painting” family.
Having seen Pro Rata’s A Lie of a Mind (another Shepard play) last fall, I was at least somewhat prepared for the issues of memory, cyclical dialogue, and dislikable characters that I was likely to encounter (and also continually ask, “Sam Shepard, are you okay, man?”). But it still can’t take the edge off of the environment that is created by Shepard’s words. The frustration that is felt by Dodge’s curmudgeonly attitude, Halie’s lack of connection with the present (depicted by her first large conversation being delivered entirely offstage, her constant misremembering of her deceased son, and her lack of acknowledgement that Tilden is even in the room), and Vince’s refusal to admit that things were not as they once were adds a high level of tension and dramatic irony. Combine that with Shelly’s feeling of being utterly out of place while also remaining the one voice that sounds somewhat reasonable, Bradley’s creepy playing with power (which becomes misogynistic when directed to Shelly), and the looming feeling that there is something very, very wrong in this house leads to what I heard one audience member describe as “unnerving… makes you feel kind of throw-uppy.”
I’m not sure I like Shepard’s writing – I’m not sure I’m supposed to – but he does what he does very well. Ruminating on how twisted patriarchy is – especially in family lines – the play works as a commentary on masculinity and paternity while playing with notions of memory and recalling the past within something that feels that, at any minute, it could spiral into a Lovecraftian horror story or a Stephen King novel. The cast does an incredible job of conveying this tension, especially in Hempleman’s delivery of dialogue that circles around and around in the same ideas. There were a few moments there seemed to be some awkwardness with props, but then again, holding onto a dozen ears of corn or long-stemmed roses is awkward. The simple, austere set (designed by Justin Spooner) wonderfully captured the run-down farm house and added to the unease. Also, being from Indiana, I was impressed with the accents by the actors and work done by dialect coach Sara Schwabe. The lower Midwest accent is unique – it’s not quite Appalachian (ie: Kentucky or Tennessee) but it’s sure got a certain twang to it.
I strongly recommend this show, but know that it isn’t your typical night at the theater. If you can handle tension that never eases up, realizing that “buried child” doesn’t mean what you think it means, and feeling like you exorcized some demons after this performance, go for for it. The moments of dark humor – and there are a lot – help ease the tension somewhat, but by the second act, you’ll be gritting your teeth, and squirming in your seat. A must-see for fans of psychological thrillers.
I first heard of The Knight of the Burning Pestle from a friend of mine who read it in college and lauded its humor and parodying of Renaissance theater. Written and performed in 1607, it references Shakespearean tropes and Cervantes-esque drama and chivalry and I was elated to see that Theatre Pro Rata was doing it this season.
If you loved Four Humor’s Don Quixote, enjoy spending time at the Renaissance Fair, and/or have any interest in bawdy Elizabethan humor and penis innuendo, this show is for you. A play within a play format, the show begins with the Prologue (David Schlosser) introducing the performance, The London Merchant, only to be interrupted by theater patrons George, a grocer (Ben Tallen) and his wife Nell (Rachel Flynn). Concerned that they are about to be bored and insulted, they take over the show, inserting their apprentice Rafe (George Dornbach) into the performance. The actors portraying the love story of Jasper (Grant Henderson) and Lucy (Julie Ann Nevill) struggle to compete with Rafe’s story line of assuming knighthood, becoming the Knight of the Burning Pestle (an interesting choice of allegiance which leads to phallic references) who is used to prevent Jasper and Lucy’s union, as the grocer and his wife thinks Lucy is better suited for the merchant Humphrey (Andrew Troth). Amidst other stories of the Falstaff-like Master Merrythought who continually breaks into song (Andrew Troth) and his wife (Julie Ann Nevill) who runs off with her favorite son (Davide Scholosser) and the family fortune, Rafe’s story line is inserted again and again as the grocer and his wife make a running commentary almost like Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets or and Renaissance RiffTrax and quite literally steal the show, despite attempts by the stage managing apprentice (Becca Hart) to keep them in line.
The show is chock-full of references to other theater of the time. Rafe’s courageous battle sequence and cheering to St. George is reminiscent of a speech from Henry V and his journey into knighthood and battling giants is very Don Quixote (as is his devotion to his ladylove, Susan). Merrythought is a Falstaff caricature, and Jasper and Lucy are somewhat reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet (though the grocer is clearly in favor of Rosalind). There are many other references, I’m sure, but as I’m no Elizabethan expert, I leave that to the better studied scholars to establish. (And if you are looking for more fun tidbits about the show, check out Pro Rata’s play guide put together by the wonderful dramturg Christine/Kit Gordon. Not that I’m biased or anything.)
I’ve never been in Dreamland Art’s space before but it’s wonderfully suited for the Globe-like setting designed by Gabriel Gomez and audience-interactive performance.(Okay, so this show was actually first performed in Blackfriars Theater, but the pillars of the set draw a strong resemblance in my mind to the Globe.) Filled with music, a variety toy instruments produce much of the sound played mainly by Becca Hart and produce as vibrant soundscape as the personalities portrayed. With lush rich costuming by Mandi Johnson, illuminating lighting by Julia Carlis, clever props by Abbee Warmboe, and humorous and well-orchestrated fight choreography by Carin Bratlie Wethern, the piece comes together as a delightful montage that celebrates and mocks the themes of the times while showing how adaptable performance can be. The entire cast is wonderful and on point, with timing that wonderful hits home jokes and added audience heckling that is recognizable and hilarious to those who have ever experienced a show with patrons who simply don’t understand certain etiquette, such as opening a noisy snack in the middle of a kissing scene is probably a bad idea (not that I’ve ever experienced this). Tallen and Flynn wonderfully steal this show (for the audience, not just the performers) with their antics and reactions throughout and their reflections on the characterizations, especially Nell’s outcry against Merrythoughts’ treatment of his wife (which, if you’ve ever struggled with Shakespeare’s depiction of women, is much appreciated). Most of all, George and Nell capture what I as an audience member have often longed to do – to insert myself on stage and interact with the characters. Instead of restraining themselves from this yearning, George and Nell create immersive theater well ahead of their time and insist on becoming a part of the story as much as they insist on allowing Rafe his moment of glory onstage.
There is a lot going on in this show, even in the off-stage parts with the actors of The London Merchant sleeping, messing with costumes, trying to control their outrage at the unraveling of the established script, and complaining to stage manager Clara Costello for the grocer and his wife’s intercessions. Amber Bjork’s wonderful directing really shows in handling layers that occur and keeping everything flowing smoothly with the understanding that there isn’t always just one center of attention onstage. This production is really a delight and a perfect way to spend a tranquil summer evening.
The Knight of the Burning Pestle is by Francis Beaumont and directed by Amber Bjork. It is playing now through June 19th at Dreamland Arts in St. Paul. Show and ticket information can be found on Theatre Pro Rata’s website.
This isn’t really a review, as I didn’t make it to Coup D’Etat’s wonderful production of Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie until closing weekend. But because it was such a splendid production, I wanted to share some thoughts about it, generated greatly by the director’s note left at the door of the theater.
Directed by Lanny Langston, this production starring James Napoleon Stone, Kaylyn Forkey, Cynthia Uhrich, and Kevin Fanshaw highlights the claustrophobic nature of the play and the tense, fragile foundation of the Wingfield’s hopes and expectations. Glass baubles hang from the ceiling, ethereal music weaves in and out of the soundscape, and Savage Umbrella’s SPACE, located in an old warehouse, lends perfectly to this show whose characters struggle with modern ideas of success while harboring romantic notions of a different lifestyle. Amanda dreams of the past when she enjoyed gentlemen callers before she married, Laura is repeatedly called old-fashioned for her shy demeanor and simple outlook on life, and Tom escapes to the movies, to watch stories of adventure so unlike the monotonous life he leads.
Langston’s directorial note asks the audience to consider their own memories and how they remember them. This came easily for me with this show because many of Laura’s experiences resonated with my own (realizing you’ve heard lines of dialogue the echo things people have actually said in your life is a very bizarre feeling) and I was wound up in seeing my personal connection with Laura. The greatest sadness of the show involves Laura and Jim, her gentleman caller. Some might say that the greatest tragedy is that Laura’s love for Jim remains unfulfilled, as he is already engaged to another, despite the interest he seems to show in her. But it isn’t just that Laura doesn’t end up with Jim (especially as that could be interpreted less as the sadness of unrequited love and more of the fear Amanda exhibits that Laura will become an old maid. As a person who has been single most of her life in a society that isn’t very kind to single people, I refuse to submit to that nonsense. Rock on, single ladies). Rather, it’s the false hope that Laura receives and the work that Jim does to ease her out of her shyness, which she immediately recedes back into once she realizes Jim’s interest in her is not what it appears. Finally in her life, someone has seen her as more than shy and embraces her difference, and then in the span of a few minutes, she finds that it’s not enough and it all falls apart.
At the top of the play, Amanda wonders what they are all going to do with the rest of their lives. She is disappointed that her children are not where she expects them to be. Laura is 24, not married and not on a strong career path. Instead of trying to figure out why or what other options might exist for Laura, Amanda berates her (rather harshly in this production) and pushes her into situations that make her shyness (which looks – and feels, as audience member – an awful lot like anxiety) stronger and prevent her from succeeding. As a millennial, the pressure and idea that you should be at a certain point in your life is something I greatly empathize with. As a young person concerned that I’m not where I should be – and realizing that being an adult is not some kind of formulaic success pattern and that worrying about such things is not worth it – the concern about what one is doing with their life and Amanda’s fretting over it is both familiar and frustrating.
This show is described at the beginning as a memory play, and it’s Laura’s brother Tom who narrates this memory for us, describing it as “the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” What truth then is Tom telling us? Is it that events in our life become more powerful when we look back upon them? That it is difficult to tell the importance of time when we are young? That children are fated to be like their fathers, as Tom is, and that happy endings will never exist for people who are different, like Laura? That memories are like glass and, like Laura’s menagerie, must be tended to be recalled and reflected upon their importance? Or how our memories of the past better reflect who we are than what happened? That our memories are as sensitive as glass and can just as easily be broken or distorted? That Laura – like her glass unicorn – must be broken in order to fit in to what society expects of her so that she does not always appear different? All of these? None of these?
This is my first time seeing a performance of The Glass Menagerie and I’m grateful that it was this production that I saw. It’s one of those shows that is often done and, when done well, is striking and thought-provoking. I’ll certainly be mulling over this one in the weeks to come.