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The Glass Menagerie at RLT Is Delightful, Takes Risks, and Explores New Sides of Familiar Characters

Raleigh Little Theatre's presentation of <em>The Glass Menagerie</em> stars Kelly McConkey (left), Mary Rowland, and Jesse R. Gephart as Laura, Amanda, and Tom Wingfield (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Raleigh Little Theatre‘s presentation of The Glass Menagerie stars Kelly McConkey (left), Mary Rowland, and Jesse R. Gephart as Laura, Amanda, and Tom Wingfield (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

The first thing that will amaze Triangle theatergoers about Raleigh Little Theatre’s presentation of The Glass Menagerie is Elizabeth Newton’s incredible set. A feat in itself, the execution of the set conjures up feelings of being lost in a surreal memory.

Director Patrick Torres is to be commended for his expert casting, as well as for framing the famous, well-known text of this play in a new way. It might strike audience members as strange how much laughter there can be in Tennessee Williams’ classic memory play.

Jesse R. Gephart is a coy and certain, but regretful Tom Wingfield. His nuanced performance frames the play well, as Tom describes a painful part of his past. With the help of the magical set, Gephart sets the scene for a memory to replay on stage. He brings Tom to life expertly, and shows us the tender emotions in this tumultuous, frustrating story.

Mary Rowland’s Tom and Laura’s mother, Amanda Wingfield, is much more approachable and emotionally available than other portrayals that I’ve seen. She’s just a different type of difficult, but has the same frustrating charm and tunnel vision. Rowland controls the mood of the room, with all the other characters waiting on her responses.

The highlight of this production is Kelly McConkey’s real and sensitive portrayal of Laura Wingfield. McConkey brought out defensive tics in Laura, like retreating to her glass collection, or compulsively playing old records, with a whole physicality that made Laura’s struggle obvious. Laura’s challenges with her mother, Amanda, were relatable and real. Her performance made the finale all that more powerful and painful.

The cast for the Raleigh Little Theatre presentation of <em>The Glass Menagerie</em> includes (from left) Kelly McConkey as Laura, Mary Rowland as Amanda, and Jesse Gephart as Tom (photo by Jeiel Shamblee)

The cast for Raleigh Little Theatre‘s presentation of The Glass Menagerie includes (from left) Kelly McConkey as Laura, Mary Rowland as Amanda, and Jesse Gephart as Tom (photo by Jeiel Shamblee)

The treatment of the first act as almost a situation comedy has one failing. As it lightens the material and gives the audience a chance to laugh, it seems to take the story out of its place in time. It makes The Glass Menagerie feel more modern, like a TV show, and less like a dream of a memory from a forgotten time. This can draw audiences in by making a classic text more relatable, but the later transition to serious and dire emotional strife was unsuccessful even with this great cast. The audience was a bit adrift, which made the powerful, well-executed finale a touch out of place.

Another strange directorial choice was Torres’ depiction of The Gentleman Caller, Jim O’Connor, played by experienced and capable Ryan Ladue. This Gentleman Caller is abrupt and more like a salesman of the time than an endearing young man. It was an interesting choice, but undermines the main thrust of Act Two, when Ladue and McConkey create a magical moment full of potential.

There are surreal elements to the performance used as bookends; yet, even RLT‘s magnificent set fades to commonplace due to the slow pace of the play. The surreal elements become accepted as the narrative plays out. The amazing flourish of the finale seems abrupt and out of place, even though it is artfully executed and perfect for the play itself.

Overall, Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of The Glass Menagerie is delightful, takes risks, and explores new sides to the characters that we’ve seen many times. It’s well worth your time to see this show in a new light and to see these accomplished, talented local actors in dream roles.

Kelly McConkey (left), Mary Rowland, and Ryan Ladue star as Laura and Amanda Wingfield and Jim O'Connor (a.k.a. The Gentleman Caller) in <em>The Glass Menagerie</em> at RLT (photo by Jeiel Shamblee)

Kelly McConkey (left), Mary Rowland, and Ryan Ladue star as Laura and Amanda Wingfield and Jim O’Connor (a.k.a. The Gentleman Caller) in The Glass Menagerie at RLT (photo by Jeiel Shamblee)

SECOND OPINION: June 17th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8034; June 15th Raleigh, NC Technician (NCSU student newspaper) review by Kevin Schaefer: http://www.technicianonline.com/features/article_8985c88c-3295-11e6-9acc-87056be7e661.html; June 13th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article83495317.html; and June 8th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-glass-menagerie/Event?oid=4537575.

Raleigh Little Theatre presents THE GLASS MENAGERIE at 8 p.m. June 23-25 and 3 p.m. June 26 in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.

TICKETS: $22 ($18 students and seniors 62+).

BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/.

SHOW: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/15-16/glass.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/580430965451808/.

RLT‘s 2015-16 SEASON: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/15-16/index.html.

PRESENTER: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.

VENUE: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/tickets/seating.html.

MAPS/DIRECTIONS: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/map-directions.html.

PARKING: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/parking.html.

NOTE: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows.

OTHER LINKS:

The Glass Menagerie (1944 Chicago and 1945 Broadway memory play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1813 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/3932 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Glass_Menagerie (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/study-guides/the-glass-menagerie-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III (Columbus, MS-born New York City playwright and screenwriter, 1911-83): http://www.olemiss.edu/mwp/dir/williams_tennessee/index.html (University of Mississippi English Department’s Mississippi Writers Page), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=8822 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0931783/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessee_Williams (Wikipedia).

Patrick Torres (Raleigh, NC director and RLT artistic director): http://www.themonti.org/storytellers/patrick-torres (The Monti bio) and https://www.facebook.com/patrick.torres.585 (Facebook page).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Diana Cameron McQueen of Raleigh, NC is an actor working in the Triangle area and beyond. She is a lifelong theatergoer, which she credits as her real theater education. She is an alumna of Enloe High School in Raleigh and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). After returning to Raleigh in 2012, she debuted as an actor in the area. McQueen is mostly known for her performances as Vanda in Venus in Fur (2015) at Raleigh Little Theatre and as Queen Elizabeth I in The Lost Colony (2013-14) in Manteo, NC; and she most recently starred as Louise in The Underpants at Theatre in the Park in Raleigh. She’s passionate about and advocates for diversity and representation in media. McQueen lives with two very lovable cats, Odin and Aurelia. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews