Here’s my second e-postcard from Cape Cod, following yesterday’s report on WHAT theater’s Nat Turner in Jerusalem. Up the Cape now, to Provincetown, where the play Tennessee Williams wrote in that town is being revived.
Williams wrote The Glass Menagerie in 1943, when he was part of what director David Drake calls “this vortex of the arts,” the creative ferment that has defined Provincetown since the fabled Provincetown Players launched the careers of Eugene O’Neill and others. It was his first hit. Drake’s revival at the Provincetown Theater, on the 75th anniversary of its Broadway debut (running Monday-Thursday through Sept. 2), recalls that genesis. Though the play takes place in Depression-era St. Louis, this performance is underscored with sounds of the sea and harbor, along with scene-change interludes from cellist Chanthoeun Varon Collins.
This “memory play,” Williams’ most autobiographical, turns on a triangle of desperation – Amanda Wingfield (Jarice Hanson), a faded Southern Belle clinging desperately to the past; her daughter Laura (Racine Oxtoby), whose limping gait, painful shyness and dreamy fantasy life preclude the romance she desperately longs for; and son Tom (Todd Flaherty), who is our narrator and Williams’ stand-in, desperate to escape his dead-end job and find himself as a poet.
Hanson, who has graced many a Valley stage over the years, is the standout in this uneven production. She’s grittier, angrier and less dreamy than other Amandas I’ve seen, determined by force of will to push her hapless offspring into the futures she has in mind for them. But a frantic despair shows through the cracks in that strident tenacity.
Each of the other performers seems to have chosen a particular attitude and stuck with it, robbing the play of much of its dramatic arc and even some of its meaning. Oxtoby’s Laura is huddled in on herself, hands clasped and shoulders hunched, an unvaried portrait of defeat, even when her hopes are briefly ignited toward the end. Flaherty’s Tom is downright affable, missing his restlessness and bitter cynicism, and when we learn he has poetic yearnings we’re surprised. Entering late in the play, LeVane Harrington, as Laura’s eagerly awaited “gentleman caller,” gives no hint that he’s not already the confident success he dreams of being.
The production – presented outdoors in what for this Covid season the theater has dubbed its “playhouse in the park-ing lot” – is performed on a makeshift stage draped in white sheeting, with Thomas Cover’s lighting casting shadowy images of the unicorn and other fanciful creatures in Laura’s treasured “glass menagerie.”
Watching this performance, I had a flash of memory myself: doing summer stock years ago in hurriedly assembled productions that relied on broad character choices and sheer energy. And like my days in stock, this shoestring production, with a minimal set and crew (and competing aurally on the night I saw it with the first day of Provincetown’s boisterous Carnival) had an encouraging show-must-go-on feel that mirrored Amanda’s gritty determination – in this case, to bring theater back to life after (to misquote O’Neill) this long year’s journey in the dark.
Photos by David Chick
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