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Art of Glass

Everyman Offers Terrific Tennessee

Tana Hicken stars in Everyman's The Glass Menagerie.

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 2/23/2000

The Glass Menagerie and Work of Art

Tennessee Williams and The Women's Project

The Everyman Theatre's production of The Glass Menagerie is worth seeing for the set alone, but with great acting and energetic directing thrown in for good measure, it's theater at its best. Aside from a few minor missteps, the cast and crew alike make the most of Tennessee Williams' carefully crafted work, providing a largely naturalistic rendition of the stylized piece.

Menagerie tells the story of a family, much like Williams' own, living in St. Louis right before World War II. The narrator, Tom, is a writer working in a factory to support his genteel mother and painfully shy sister. The mother, Amanda (played by director Donald Hicken's wife, Tana Hicken), considers her son selfish despite his sacrifices. She's more interested in reliving her past than dealing with the present, except when it comes to her daughter, Laura. She wants Laura to get married and pressures Tom to bring home a gentleman caller for the introverted girl, who feels even more self-conscious because of her limp. Laura spends most of her time maintaining her menagerie of glass figurines, and tending to the equally delicate relationship between Tom and their mother.

Donald Hicken's direction keeps the play moving at a brisk pace and makes the most out of Daniel Conway's exquisite set. However, the use of dramatic spotlights at the end of scenes is a bit jarring. Despite Tom's opening monologue, in which he discusses the play as a play, it's easy to lose yourself in the characters and story in this production. The use of this conspicuously theatrical device takes the audience out of the moment.

All of the actors give complex and involving performances, especially the women. Tana Hicken's Amanda is energetic throughout the play, displaying her character's frustration and romantic nature in rapid succession. Hicken occasionally seemed to be struggling for a line, but she used Amanda's flightiness to continue smoothly. Maia DeSanti gives a beautifully subtle performance as Laura, showing her strength despite her physical frailty, emotionally anchoring the production. Christopher Lane's supporting performance as the gentleman caller is natural and appealing, a perfect contrast to DeSanti's Laura in the way he reveals his character's insecurities along with his strengths.

Kyle Prue's Tom is ferocious, filled with unceasing and, at times, overpowering anger. As a result of his fury, Tom's relationship with Laura—one of the play's key devices—becomes the show's weakest connection. However, in his drunk scene, Prue ably reveals Tom's softer side and his love for his sister. If he can temper the rest of his performance with the tenderness displayed in this scene, he will take his character to a new level.

If not for these strong performances, the set would surely steal the show. Conway's design perfectly captures Williams' description of St. Louis being the color of "dried blood and mustard" but having the warm haunting glow of a memory. It displays not only an unfailing attention to detail but a sense of style and space. Everyman's Glass Menagerie, co-produced by Roundhouse Theatre, is a wonderful example of a classic brought to its full potential.

The Women's Project's latest production, Work of Art, focuses on the talents of local female playwrights. Being shown in the tiny upstairs venue at Fells Point Corner Theatre, this production features eight vignettes set in a museum. These pieces have some nice moments and offer some enjoyable performances, but ultimately the production lacks innovation. The stories are overly familiar, filled with stereotyped characters and situations seen many times before.

The set is simple, covered with empty picture frames hung at odd angles and a few multipurpose pieces of scenery. A dancer, Katherine Jaeger, changes the set between scenes, gracefully moving walls and pieces of unneeded furniture.

The first piece, Dolores Moran's "Working Class," displays the show's reliance on stock characters. Jodie Calvert gives an overly dramatic and mannered performance as a high-falutin' art teacher. Byron Predika plays a so-called Common Man with more subtlety, but his blue-collar Joe seems too familiar. As a result, the piece's surprise ending is hardly a surprise. Linda Chambers' "A Very, Very, Very Fine House" depicts a widower and his daughter. Ashley Fishell gives an energetic performance as the daughter but is disturbingly flirty. Larry Malkus' portrayal of the father is strong, but the story of a man dealing with loss and trying to get on with his life by dating again offers nothing new.

Some bits fare better: In Barbara Gehring's piece, "Psychologically Slimed," Chambers gives an amusing and affecting performance as a woman dealing with menopause; Jess Christensen plays off her nicely as her daughter. "Alice's Canvas," by Kathleen Barber, depicts an older married couple. She's trying to find her own voice through painting after years of sacrificing herself for her family; he struggles to understand his wife's change. This piece has one wonderfully effective and thought-provoking moment: As the couple examines Nicolas Poussin's painting "The Rape of the Sabine Women," the woman points out the fact that the horse looks more afraid than the women do. She notes that a woman would never have painted it that way. With a slide of the painting up for the audience to see, her point is made especially clear.

Chambers' "Canaletto's Capriccio" is one of the show's strongest pieces, dealing with a man's struggle to come to terms with his mother's senility. Patrick Martyn gives a wonderful performance, and Binnie Ritchie Holum's senile mother is childlike and layered. Chambers' script deals with both art and the phenomenon of memory. Martyn steps in and out of the scene, interacting with his mother and then the audience, making the piece itself feel like a memory.

Co-directors Holum and Chambers have a some nice tricks up their sleeves, such as the use of the dancer as scene changer and performers in colored sacks masquerading as works of art. They also make the most of the small space. But some of some of the blocking seems awkward, and the directors failed to rein in some unfortunate actorly performances. Work of Art's good intentions don't overcome its over-reliance on stock characters and conventions instead of emotions.

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