Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Glass Menagerie
Also see Carole's reviews of Doubt: A Parable and This Is Modern Art and Carla's review of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Tennessee Williams tells us up front that this is a memory play, a reminiscence presented to us by the character Tom Wingfield ("Thomas" was Williams's real first name). Tom is usually played by an actor in his twenties or thirties. Wouldn't it be likely, though, that Tom is not a young man anymore, but someone looking back at his youth from his later years? Maybe someone almost as old as the play itself?
That is the exceptional approach that director Frederick Ponzlov has taken here. Ponzlov, seventy-ish, has cast himself as Tom, and it produces a truly poignant effect. The rest of the cast is age appropriate to their roles, as they must be, since in Tom's mind they are stuck in that particular time and place. Only Tom has grown old, and to have an elderly man recalling the long-vanished past makes for an almost heartbreaking nostalgia.
Most theatergoers know the story because the play has been widely anthologized, taught in high schools, and frequently performedin fact, performed so often that it's not easy to draw people to the theater for it. Some people may say they don't need to see it again, they've seen it enough times. But if they miss this production, they would be missing a lot. Not just the conception, but the acting and staging are wonderful.
Amanda is beautifully played by Sharon Skinner, a professional actress who has stepped back onto the stage after quite a long absence. She captures the frustration and desperation of this woman, and also her kind-heartedness and even humor. (Yes, there are a few laughs in this show.) Tilcara Webb does fine work as the pathologically shy Laura. Her physical transformation from the epitome of dowdy in the first half of the play to the second half, when Amanda has groomed her for the gentleman caller, is startling. (Some of the credit surely goes to the costume designer, Rhonda Backinoff.) My only complaint is that, although Tilcara does not overact, her fingers do. She is constantly contorting them, which is one way to show extreme nervousness, but it also distracted me from the rest of her otherwise superb performance.
On the evening I saw the show, Jim the Gentleman Caller was played terrifically by Julian Bonfiglio, an actor we don't see on stage enough because he is often doing movie and TV work. (He alternates in the role with Pete Sheldon, another excellent young actor in town.) Frederick Ponzlov's line delivery tends toward oration, but it works here because he's the narrative voice of the play. There is really beautiful work done by all involved.
The set by Nina Dorrance accommodates itself to the small stage well, and the props, which I assume she also is responsible for, are perfect, especially the glass figurines. The sound design by Casey Mraz is so good that it sounds like Laura is actually playing records on the old Victrola (maybe she is). There is good lighting by Nick Tapia, although the spot on Tom sometimes seems unnecessarily bright. I should also mention the violinist Todd Farkas, who plays a wide-ranging medley of familiar tunes before the show starts, and provides off-stage incidental music here and there.
The Glass Menagerie might be the only play I can see over and over again and enjoy it every time. If you have never seen it, it's time you do, but be aware that this is not a typical production of it. If you have seen the play before, all the more reason to see this innovative take on it.
The Glass Menagerie, runs through March 15, 2020, at Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill, 3011 Monte Vista Blvd. NE (just north of Central), Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets $12 - $23. For tickets and information, please visit auxdogtheatre.org.