Words of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ like you’ve never heard them before
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticemail@example.com June 2, 2013 10:03PM
Mary-Arrchie Theatre’s production of “The Glass Menagerie,” now in a remount at Theater Wit, imagines a worst-case scenario for narrator Tom (Hans Fleischmann) — homeless, alcoholic and living in an alleyway. | EMILY SCHWARTZ
‘The Glass Menagerie’
When: Through June 30
Where: Mary-Arrchie Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
Info: (773) 975-8150; www.theaterwit.org
Run time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission
Updated: July 4, 2013 6:06AM
The opening monologue of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” is arguably the most hauntingly beautiful piece of writing (and finest synopsis) to set any play in motion.
Hyperbole? I don’t think so. And should you have any doubts, just listen to how it is rendered by that masterful actor Hans Fleischmann, who plays Tom, “the narrator of the play, and also a character in it.”
Fleischmann also is the director of this Mary-Arrchie Theatre production — a show that attracted tremendous attention this past winter and is now even more luminous, and just somewhat grander in scale, in a remount at Theater Wit.
Fleischmann sets Williams’ play in motion with the sound of discordant but elegiac violins followed by the jangling of glass bottles collected by a homeless man carrying a steel crate. The man is Tom (the playwright’s alter ego), and with his measured, sonorous voice and his subtle. confidence-game sparkle, the actor makes you hear the inner music of Williams’ words as you have never heard them before. (If this is your first acquaintance with this “memory play,” simply consider yourself lucky.)
“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician,” Tom tells us in that opening scene. “[The magician] gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”
What Fleischmann gives us is both. Most portrayals of Tom suggest he is a sort of functioning bohemian rebel and writer, suffused with guilt for having fled (much as his own father had done years earlier) from the Depression-era home of the mother and sister who depended upon him. But here we have the worst-case scenario. For this Tom has turned into a homeless alcoholic, still poetic, but living in an alleyway where he has amassed an enormous collection of glass bottles — a powerful “reflection” of his crippled sister’s delicate “glass menagerie.”
Appearing as if truly called forth from Tom’s memory are his mother, Amanda Wingfield (Maggie Cain, spot-on as the long-ago Southern belle whose insistent chatter is an expression of pure panic), and his painfully shy sister, Laura (the lovely Joanne Dubach, who opens and closes like a delicate lily). Entering later is Jim (the ideally understated Walter Briggs) — the “Gentleman Caller” Tom has arranged for Laura to meet. And he fits Williams’ description as “the most realistic character in the play, being an emissary from a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from.” He also is the emblem of American optimism, even if he has so far been unable to match his high school glory days.
Grant Sabin’s set is a wonder, with the tableaus of Tom’s memory seeming to magically appear from behind its bare brick walls and bottle-strewn fire escape stairway. Enhancing the hypnotic quality is Matthew Gawryk’s beautiful lighting, the astonishing props amassed by Arianna Soloway, the ingenious projections by Anna Henson and an original score by Daniel Knox. Theater Wit is a far sleeker environment than Mary-Arrchie’s dingy home base. But Fleischman and his fellow artists have more than enough magic up their sleeves to create the perfect illusion.