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Wednesday
Jul172013

Powerful Performances of Menagerie at Stage Door Theatre Company

Sturgeon Bay’s Third Avenue Playhouse (TAP) presents a compelling production of The Glass Menagerie, an American classic by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tennessee Williams in the intimate Studio Theatre for Stage Door Theatre Company. Co-Founder, Managing Director of TAP and now Director James Valcq adds his considerable talents to this commanding production that concludes on July 19.

Valcq directs this drama with palpable warmth, adding more reality than memory, even when Tom Wingfield ruminates from an alley about his former home life. In another brilliant directorial decision, Valcq composed a haunting original score to accompany the production with the tinkling of bells heard throughout his delicate melodies, themes for Laura Wingfield and her tiny menagerie of glass animals.

While the audience realizes the Wingfield family suffers personal internal and external conflict, Valcq imbues the cast, and Williams’ script, with characters that seem to genuinely care for each other instead of merely tolerating each other. This apparent affection substantially heightens their abandonment fears and relational dysfunction the audience comes to experience during the evening’s evocative performances.

Williams was known to a have a loose pen where he often combined fact and fiction in his literature. His The Glass Menagerie, written in1944, believed to be his most autobiographical play, where the character of Tom Wingfield, or “the son” from the playbill, personified Williams whose actual name was Tom. Laura resembled Williams’ own sister Rose, a sibling with mental incapabilities during an era in the early 1930’s when the country understood very little about such illnesses. A physical defect replaces Rose’s defect in Williams’ character Laura from his play, a more visible, yet also misunderstood imperfection connected with human fragility.

Under Valcq’s direction, the gifted cast accomplishes what Williams might have intended his play to accomplish. Including how the Stage Door Theatre’s adjacent aisle space was used to good effect as a fire escape or alley for the depression era apartment where a square oak table takes center stage to develop the action.This underscores empathy because Valcq, also the scenic/sound designer, sets William's scenes under telephone wires in the St. Louis tenement, emphasizing that the charming Mr. Wingfield left his family for another life spoken about in that famous quote from the script: “He was a telephone man who fell in love with long distance.” 

Ryan Schabach’s Tom seethes with frustration and eventually guilt in a gritty performance tinged with genuine love for Laura, and in some measure, for his over protective mother Amanda. As Tom’s counterpoint in the home, Kay Allmand’s nuanced Laura seems to rely on survival instead of pity in her portrayal of a young woman at odds with herself and her minor disability, emanating more from a hip deformity than what the play calls a crippled leg.

This portrayal deepens Laura’s sensitivities to engage sympathy from the audience, especially when she glows in the attention from Tom’s friend, Jim O’Connor, an understanding Ryan Patrick Shaw. O’Connor becomes Laura’s only gentlemen caller, a man somewhat secretly attracted to her delicate, shy personality through his attempts to strengthen her self confidence. Where their resulting kiss also reflects a glow symbolized by candlelight. 

As the woman who rules the family in the role of matriarch, Claire Morkin’s Amanda dreads another male abandonment, insufficient finances to survive without her son’s employment and acute anxiety for her children’s success in life, very real fears for any mother. All her emotions complicated by the loss of a husband now gone who she might have actually loved. 

In Morkin’s portrayal, Amanda’s neurotic nagging and caring seem to naturally arise from this anxiety and insecurity, instead of a completely wayward personality, even if detrimental for her children. In the second act when Amanda reminiscences her youth, Morkin again shines, so the audience revels in her stories, believes Amanda was the Southern Debutante she left behind to marry her husband.

Also incorporated into TAP's Glass Menagerie would be nationally known Sturgeon Bay artist Jeremy Popelka’s hand blown glass animals. At intermission, step closely to the stage, and without touching, marvel at their transparent beauty, or purchase a larger one for sale in the lobby, or at the theatre’s fundraiser in September. Popelka generously donated his artwork to the theater for this production.

Stage Door’s second season unveils multiple casts of talented Midwestern actors and hidden treasures behind this beginning theatre company, all for the benefit of residents and tourists who find their way to these exceptional theatre experiences. If one misses TAP’s The Glass Menagerie, there will be three more productions this season, anxiously awaited after this show: Greater Tuna, House of Blue Leaves and 39 Steps. Stop by soon to support great live theatre for an evening to enjoy in Sturgeon Bay.

For information on Third Avenue Playhouse or tickets to their current 2013 season, please call 920.743.1760 or visit www.thirdavenueplayhouse.com.                                  by Peggy Sue Dunigan

 

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