Photo credit: Chris Loupos
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Austin Pendleton & Peter Bloch
Stage Management & Sound Design by Jesse Meckl
Scenic Design by Jessie Bonaventure
Lighting Design by Steve Wolf
Costume Design by Arlene’s Costumes
Scrim Design by Jessie Wolfrom
The press release for this RuthStage’s provocative revival of THE GLASS MENAGERIE describes the directors’ take as “inspired by the horror films of Wes Craven”. If that sounds like one of those popular those mixed-genre mashups, fear not. This isn’t Laura Wingfield, Vampire Hunter. The point here is not to gimmickize Tennessee Williams, but to highlight some of the play’s romantically dark, cinematic undertones. Indeed, the production succeeds admirably in evoking an eerie mood of recollected hurts, though it’s less reminiscent of Craven’s nightmares than of the gothic, chiaroscuro style of early horror masterpieces like James Whale’s Frankenstein and Todd Browning’s Dracula.
The set and costumes are designed in striking black and white, occasionally blooming into color in certain select moments, while much the stage is kept in darkness or charcoal-drawing half-light. Over this murky living room floats a projection of an absent father, who sports the good looks and ingratiating grin of an old-time matinee idol. These spooky trappings prove highly effective in reframing the text, prompting the audience take a fresh look at a work we know backwards and forwards (or like to think we do). The casting choices, too, deviate from the usual stock interpretations, giving the story a new relevance and urgency. Matt De Rogatis’s Tom is virile and rangy, with close cropped hair and the fevered look of a man who can no longer quiet the inner voices that urge him to break away. In the role of Tom’s outspoken mom, the radiant Ginger Grace is refreshingly different from the stout, weary Amandas we’re used to. Rather than a faded southern belle whose best days (if really were as splendid as she claims) are far behind her, here we see a vital, striking woman still in her prime. This makes her all the more of a tragic figure, because she might still be the belle of the ball if not for the poverty and fear that keeps her trapped in the shadows. Alexandra Rose provides an apt foil as the introverted Laura Wingfield. Finding the subtext in the play’s silences, Rose portrays Laura as both genuinely fragile and surreptitiously strong-willed. Despite Amanda’s best efforts, Laura’s quiet obstinacy makes her impossible to control. Rounding out the ensemble is Spencer Scott, who endows Jim the Gentleman Caller with midwestern forthrightness and solidity: qualities that, unfortunately, don’t mesh easily with the eccentric ways of Tom’s family. In keeping with the show’s horror-movie theme, Jim is a bit like the innocent guest who wanders into a haunted house on a rainy night. He’s intrigued by this odd environment, but soon cottons to the realization that escape is the only option.
Directors Austin Pendleton and Peter Bloch move the actors fluidly in and out of the gloom as the story requires, and find the human drives beneath the poetic phrasing of Williams’s dialogue. Their touch, along with the vivid energy and emotional rawness of the cast, pumps modern electricity into the bones of a classic drama and confirms its cathartic potency. Like doctor Frankenstein, we can exult in the affirmation, “It’s alive!”
THE GLASS MENAGERIE continues through October 20, 2019 at the Wild Project, 195 E 3rd St, New York, NY 10009.