The Glass Menagerie

Berkeley, CA
at Berkeley Repertory Theater

The Glass Menagerie PosterThe Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

What a disappointment! 

If Berkeley Rep had been the first producer of the young struggling playwright’s work,  we would never know the name Tennessee Williams. As it is, people who attended Berkeley Rep’s travesty have not made the acquaintance of this powerful play.

Figuring out where to start ranting is difficult, but the largest dose of vitriol is due director Les Waters. The acting cast shared many faults so misdirection is the most likely villain.

The family dynamics acted on stage — the key to the play — are not those written. Instead of pathological interpersonal behavior, at times Tom (the son, played by Erik Lochtefeld) and the mother, Amanda (Rita Moreno) smile at each other as they bicker.  It’s as if they had been told that they were in a family comedy where the witty repartee was meant to amuse the audience.  Daughter Laura (Emily Donahoe) and her gentleman caller (Terrence Riordan) also have moments when they’re playing self-mocking caricatures and not characters. The menacing human truth written into the play escapes the Berkeley production.  The downbeat narrative and dismal outcome don’t follow from what we’ve seen on stage.  They’re a tacked-on contrivance that doesn’t match the director’s vision.

From the title of the play, and from some inconvenient dialog, you could think that Laura has an obsession with glass animals. Not in the Berkeley production.  She doesn’t fuss or even notice the glass collection until the script demands it. She’s not in her own glass world, not borderline mad, and not the person Williams wrote. Sure she’s shy and maybe a bit goofy, but this fortunate daughter escaped the tragedy envisioned by Williams

redozdachs says he saw in the program notes a comment from the director that he never seen Glass Menagerie staged before getting this assignment.  While that lack of contamination can empower a director to create a fresh impression, it feels like Waters had never even read the play.

Moving beyond the director, there is still plenty to be disappointed about.  Rita Moreno’s presence enticed us into buying our tickets. At times she was the brilliant, nuanced actress we delight in. Unfortunately, in several speeches she could only circle toward her lines, approximating the story she was supposed to tell.  Given that we saw a performance of the show that was part of an extended run, her vagueness is difficult to excuse.

The costumes were inconsistent verging on outright inappropriate. Did this family have money for clothes or not? I think the answer is “not”, but mother had a sharp new suit in one scene. Of course, in a following scene her dress was stunningly formless from the back, looking more like curtains than clothes, and apparently unintentionally or carelessly awful. Its poor quality was not part of the plot, just part of the production. The gentleman caller’s spotless, unruffled-at-the-end-of-the-day, bankers’ pinstripe suit similarly called attention to itself, demanding to know if was in the right play.

And, speaking of inconsistencies, the entrances and exits from the stage were baffling. There were no physical doors, which is okay.  But, sometimes a character would walk right off stage and be gone. Other times the character would have to circle all the way around the front of the stage to leave.  Then, toward the end of the play , the son was across the stage from where the exit had been. The son pointed directly in front of him and talked about leaving the family though this door.  The movable way out didn’t feel intentionally symbolic (which would have only been too precious), but merely careless.

I suppose a malfunctioning hissing speaker is a petty inconvenience, normally too small to mention. But, it was over our heads and seemed to match the overall shabbiness of the performance.

The second act was particularly weak.  I found myself avoiding the over-large, wrongly-happy acting on stage.  Several times I closed my eyes just to listen to the words.  Those words, especially those narrated by Erik Lochtefeld,  remained powerful.  They, Lochtefeld’s delivery, and the moments when Moreno used her skills earn any applause given.

We were looking forward to seeing a tour de force performance by Rita Moreno in a William’s seminal memory play. Berkeley Rep, what happened?

2 Syntaxes out of 5

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One Response to The Glass Menagerie

  1. sfmini says:

    I would have gone just on Rita’s name too. I don’t think I’ve seen her do anything bad. But I suppose if you are told to do something bad I guess you do it.

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