Theater review: ‘The Glass Menagerie’ at Coastal Repertory Theatre

In Review

The Glass Menagerie

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars - 'Sweet Stuff'
Coastal Repertory Theatre
Directed by Michael Lederman
Starring Roxane Ashe, Peter K. Owen, Elise Karolina Hunt, Evan Saunders
by Tennessee Williams
www.coastalrep.com
Review by

glass-menagerieHow would you remember your past?

In ‘The Glass Menagerie’, Tennessee Williams’ first successful play as a playwright, we are drawn into the very personal memories of Tom Wingfield (Peter K. Owen) as he recalls his earlier life living with his loving, but often overbearing, mother and his shy, crippled sister.

The Coastal Rep brings this classic play to life with a performance that is emotionally believable and successfully conveys the fragile and haunting nature of memories.

Roxane Ashe gives a strong performance as Amanda Wingfield, balancing the character elements that makes you empathetic and simultaneously understand how hollers of “Rise and shine!” in the mornings could drive a man to escape. Just as the narrator, Tom, is haunted by the memory of his past, Amanda lives much of her life reminiscing about days being courted by many gentleman callers.

There is no greater contrast to Amanda’s character, than her daughter Laura Wingfield (Elise Karolina Hunt) who is extremely shy which only seemed to be exacerbated by her crippled condition. Elise is able to convey the fragile nature of her character and as she is, in the second act, lifted and twirled around by Jim O’Connor (Evan Sauders), we see a world of possibilities for her. She starts to open up and this transformation is carried forth with ease and conviction. Like the glass figurines that sit quietly on display, Laura, when held up to the candlelight casts beautiful colors.

The transition of Tom from narrator recalling memories to the present is handled nicely moving from within the meshed stage area to a balcony outside. During the narrator portion, a bit more audience connection would have further drawn us in.

The stage set is cleverly constructed with a mesh fabric surrounding the entire stage to give it a hazy, ethereal feel that instantly brought me into a dreamy state. The lighting was used effectively starting from the projection of a brick building on the mesh fabric in the beginning of the play, to à propos focused lighting on the portrait of Tom Wingfield’s dad who abandoned the family many years ago. In fact, the latter lighting element contributed to many chuckles.

One moment in particular involved Tom stumbling home intoxicated after an evening at the movies. Just as he is about to collapse on the couch in exhaustion, he talks of seeing a magician that evening who could escape from a sealed coffin “without removing a nail”. As Tom wonders who could do such a feat, a spotlight beams across his dad’s portrait amidst laughter from the audience.

The stage set could have further heightened the believability of the play by using real food and water; it was somewhat distracting seeing a pitcher poured with no liquid spouting forth. There were also some awkward transitions with the imaginary door which could have been reduced with a different orientation.

The mood of the play shifts wonderfully in this production from the recollection of Tom’s home life, the desperation to survive, and the excited feelings of love and hope, all sprinkled with humor. The story is touching and draws the audience in. By the end, I really wanted the Wingfield family to attain all that they dreamed of. This emotional jump for the audience is critical to a successful production of ‘The Glass Menagerie’.

The Coastal Repertory Theatre’s ‘The Glass Menagerie’ is a beautifully crafted memory full of sorrow, dreams and hopes told with a gentle honesty.

Clint says:

If ‘The Glass Menagerie’ is, as Director Michael Lederman suggests, a kiss, then it’s definitely an affectionate, but bittersweet one worth experiencing. After all, love, especially in the extenuating circumstances that Amanda, Laura and Tom endure—poverty, handicaps, abandonment—is not always easy. Later, of course, we learn that it can also be deceptive and nasty in the form of “The Gentleman Caller” who saunters into their lives with questionable motives.

Coastal Repertory Theatre impresses. Like ‘Tommy’ this summer, they somehow deliver quality entertainment, acting and set design that belies their budget. Credit that to the passion of Lederman, and the creativity of a strong ensemble of cast members and production staff.

Roxane Ash anchors the play as “The Mother”, capturing the overbearing mother with whimsy one moment and semi-psychotic rants the next.

Elise Karolina Hunt as Laura, “The Daughter”, has been acting at Coastal Rep since she was eight years old. She too does well to subtly fade into the background, shyness triumphing over her inner desires time and time again.

The men, “The Son” (Peter K. Own) and “The Gentlemen Caller” (Evan Saunders) were good, but on this night I’d have to chalk one up for the women.

Coastal’s Menagerie does what it should with understated style and class. It transports you back to a time wrought with emotion, impossible life choices, and boiling family drama. Well done and definitely recommended.

Noteworthy
  • Sometimes with live theater the unexpected happens and challenges the actors to improvise; on this evening, the unicorn from the glass menagerie collection mysteriously disappears after being knocked over during a romantic, living room dance; the actors ad-lib, “did it go under the couch,” and continue with the scene, later to discover it had magically attached itself to the bottom of Amanda’s dress; Elise cleverly fetches the little glass horse and later gifts it to “The Gentleman Caller” without missing a beat
  • Coastal Repertory Theatre is a gem for the Half Moon Bay community; the 158-seat theatre is located across from the scenic Pacific; fall is in the air, with pumpkins, the light sweet smell of night fires and moon lit skies
  • The passion starts with devoted, hands-on, artistic director Michael Lederman who mingles with audience members before the show, during intermission and with warm handshakes at exit
  • Michael told us before the show that his wife plays Amanda (from Tennessee the accent is a natural fit!)
  • Coming from the Bay Area? Watch for heavy weekend traffic on highway 92… according to Lederman, it becomes somewhat of  a playground with plenty of family activities at hand
  • A community affair: volunteers staff concessions where anything (including the always tempting chocolate chunk cookie) can be had for $1

The Glass Menagerie
Coastal Repertory Theatre
Half Moon Bay, California
Tickets $18-$30
September 18 – October 10, 2009

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Loni Stark
Loni Stark is a self-professed foodie, and adventure travel seeker, and yet is also passionate about technology’s impact on business and creativity. She's the host of our Stark Insider video features. It’s been said her laugh can be heard from San Jose all the way up to the Golden Gate Bridge. She makes no claims to super powers, although sushi is definitely her Kryptonite. Loni's story...