The gimmick for Mabou Mines’ artistic director and adapter Lee Breuer’s avant-garde workshop reading of The Glass Menagerie, which Duke Performances presented twice on Feb. 27th in the Emma A. Sheafer Laboratory Theater in the Bryan Center on Duke University’s West Campus, is to combine Mississippi playwright Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams’ heart-breakingly poignant semiautobiographical 1945 memory play with his failed 1967 comeback attempt, The Two-Character Play (revised in 1971 as Out Cry), in order to explore more fully the sexuality of two of Williams’ fictional alter egos — bored-stiff and withering-on-the-vine shoe-factory worker and would-be poet Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie and struggling playwright Felice in The Two-Character Play — as well as to examine side-by-side how Williams’ abandonment of his troubled sister Rose, whose lobotomy haunted the playwright, influenced the problematical brother-sister relationships between Tom and the “crippled” and emotionally fragile sister Laura Wingfield, whom he ultimately abandons when he joins the Merchant Marine, and Felice and his high-strung actress sister Clare.
Breuer bookends an abbreviated performance of The Glass Menagerie with sections of The Two-Character Play, substituting Menagerie for the latter’s play-within-a-play, and has Greg Mehrten and Maude Mitchell initially tackle the roles of Tom and fading Southern belle Amanda Wingfield in Menagerie and Felice and Clare in The Two-Character Play. It is a bold experiment that starts to go awry almost immediately as Mehrten and Mitchell swap roles and speak each others’ lines — in forced and phony Southern accents — in The Glass Menagerie. (The irritating drawl that Mitchell and Mehrten adopt is the Hollywood notion of how natives of the Deep South sound.)
Breuer also introduces charismatic 3′ 10″ actor Nicholas Novicki as Jim O’Brien (a.k.a. the long-awaited Gentleman Caller), and the remainder of the cast — Hannah Kritzeck, Jessica Weinstein, Jay Ansill, and Jessica Del Vecchio — play assorted characters who swap roles, like Mitchell and Mehrten do, but are never given enough stage time to inhabit any character fully and convincingly.
The result is very close to a desecration of what is probably Tennessee Williams’ most poetic and intensely personal play. Rather than reimagine a much-performed script in a way that reinvigorates it, director and adapter Lee Breuer leaves that rare viewer who has never heard meddlesome matriarch Amanda Winfield admonish Tom to “Rise and shine!” wondering how The Glass Menagerie earned its reputation as one of the classic scripts of the Modern American Theater.
SECOND OPINION: March 3rd Raleigh, NC Classical Voice of North Carolina review by Julie-Kate Cooper: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=989 and March 3rd review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=990; and Feb. 25th Durham, NC The Thread: Duke Performances Blog interview with Lee Breuer by Adam Sobsey: http://thethread.dukeperformances.duke.edu/2011/02/interview-mabou-mines-director-lee-breuer/ and two Feb. 24th articles by Adam Sobsey: http://thethread.dukeperformances.duke.edu/2011/02/mabou-mines-open-rehearsal-the-glass-menagerie/ and http://thethread.dukeperformances.duke.edu/2011/02/tennessee-williams-new-plastic-theatre/. (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 26th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/02/mabou-mines-workshops-the-glass-menagerie-in-duke-universitys-sheafer-laboratory-theater/.)
The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Glass_Menagerie (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=3932 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042509/ (Internet Movie Database).
The Playwright: http://www.olemiss.edu/mwp/dir/williams_tennessee/index.html (University of Mississippi English Department’s Mississippi Writers Page), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessee_Williams (Wikipedia), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=8822 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0931783/ (Internet Movie Database).
Mabou Mines’ Production: http://www.maboumines.org/productions/glass-menagerie (official web page).
Mabou Mines: http://www.maboumines.org/ (official website).
Lee Breuer: http://leebreuer.com/ (official website).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.
To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.