"The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic." --The Glass Menagerie, Tom, Scene 1
This is our introduction to one of the most famous plays in the American theatrical canon. This weekend and next, the immediate theatre project presents this seminal work of Tennessee Williams at the NC Stage Company as the inaugural production of the all-new Catalyst Series. Let me be very clear on this next point: You do not want to miss this show.
It is rare to find artists this early in their careers that have such a finely tuned awareness of the story that they are telling. Often, with a work as subtle as this, the tendency is to hammer the audience with a "concept" or "new vision" of the oft-interpreted text. Instead, immediate theatre project has chosen to let Williams' words carry the play. There is an evident effort on the part of the company to choose to play the action of the script, in all of its heart-wrenching, tragic glory, instead of forcing an undue contemporary interpretation upon the text.
Hans Meyer, artistic director for immediate theatre project, has used Tom's presentational description of the play to great effect. The NC Stage space has been transformed into an otherworldly representation of Middle America, circa 1944. The traditionally black stage has been taken to a glaring white, creating a canvas on which Tom's memories spring to life. Area lighting created through practical implementation sets the tone of Tom's memories. Tom controls the shift from scene to scene with the flip of a switch on a breaker box set just off the lip of the stage. The effect of this is such that we witness the play through Tom's eyes--we feel the pain of his difficult memories and exult in the joy of his recollection of happier times.
Mr. Meyer's work with the actors shows a confidence in the text, as well as an ability to relate to the players on their own terms. The scenes ring with authenticity stemming from honest interactions--which can only be earned through hard work in rehearsal, not through borrowing the moments in the heat of performance. Kudos to Ms. Breland as Amanda and Mr. Repoley as Tom for rising to the task of finding nuance and subtlety in characters that can easily slip into stereotypical caricatures.
If there lies any difficulty in watching this production, it is in the technicalities of the staging of the performers. Mr. Meyer, for his strength in interpreting the script and coaxing genuine portrayals from the actors, seems to be a bit at sea in terms of blocking for a thrust stage. Often, the characters played crucial moments nose to nose, effectively eschewing the audience from the heart of the scene. A small adjustment to the actor's placement would have strengthened these moments immeasurably.
But all is forgiven in the final moments of the play. It is typical, in productions of The Glass Menagerie, to force an optimistic interpretation upon Laura and Tom's final interaction. Mr. Meyer has instead chosen to highlight the poignancy of Tom's search for reconciliation in this moment. There is an overwhelming sense that Tom is left to confront his own personal demons as Laura leaves him, unassuaged and helpless. The final image of Tom's exit is a haunting spectre of melancholy--and, alone, worth the price of admission.
My congratulations to the immediate theatre project on a successful debut performance. Here's hoping that we will see more quality work from this impacting group of artists.