Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Glass Menagerie
New Mexico Actors Lab
Review by Mark Dunn

Also see Wally's review of Time Stands Still


Robyn Rikoon and Suzanne Lederer
Photo by Robert Benedetti
Taking on the iconic American play The Glass Menagerie, which has, since its Chicago premiere in 1944, challenged the best of our stage actors and directors, is no easy task. Perhaps the biggest shoes to fill in all of American theater are those of Laurette Taylor, whose Broadway performance as Amanda Wingfield, mother to Tom and Laura, has been counted, by stage veterans lucky enough to have seen her in the mid-1940s, as the gold standard for stage performance.

Into those shoes steps Suzanne Lederer, whose work in the New Mexico Actors Lab production of this classic Tennessee Williams play at Teatro Paraguas is easily comparable to any of the the other actresses who have essayed this difficult role. Ms. Lederer, who has acquired a long resume in television and on the professional stage (she played Constanze, wife of Mozart, in the Broadway production of Amadeus), lays bare so successfully the complicated emotional chemistry of a character who has one foot in the past and the other in the quicksand of the present, that audience reaction on opening night was both vocal and palpable. One of the highlights of the production comes when Amanda, anticipating a visit by a potential "gentleman caller" for her daughter Laura, becomes, through emotional projection, the recipient of that caller herself: a giddy, Southern belle-butterfly winging gossamer around the newly arrived Jim. A scene that could be uncomfortably creepy becomes, through Lederer's interpretation of Amanda's return to the glories of her youth, sweet and poignant and heartbreaking.

Ms. Lederer has the privilege of working with three other actors equally up to the task of playing characters so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that they have become emblematic touchstones. As the fragile, introverted Laura, Robyn Rikoon does something magical with her performance: she succeeds in breaking through the wall of privacy and mortifying shyness that Tennessee Williams built around the character of Laura, and gives us a glimpse at the vibrant spirit dwelling within. Robyn's is the first Laura I've seen who caused me to wonder, when Jim makes it clear that nothing will come of their tender moment of connection, "Are you sure you don't want to rethink that, buddy?" As Jim O'Connor, the "gentleman caller," Vaughn Irving brings a depth to the catalytic character, which humanizes him; his gentle treatment of Laura feels real and organic.

Geoffrey Pomeroy acquits himself masterfully in bringing out all the layers of a character for whom the actor must play both text and subtext. Amanda's son Tom is suffocating in the tiny St. Louis apartment he shares with his mother and sister. He hungers for adventure and is wrestling with the competing needs of helping his family and rescuing his own life from permanent dormancy. Pomeroy exhibits with ease both sides of Tom's complex, conflictive nature, by turns revealing in private to his friend Jim a cold and calculative exercise in self-interest by using the money with which he should have paid the light bill for himself and then at other times demonstrating love for his delicate sister through moments of sweet, protective intimacy.

Robert Benedetti, a director of impressive credentials, confirms his experience and talent with sharp attention to detail and the successful choreographing of actors in the interesting "tennis court" set-up for this production. (The audience is seated on opposing sides; the action of the play takes place in between.)

A word or two about the excellent choices made in the show's design: Skip Rapoport's lighting attends the text in both subtle and powerful ways. Even before confirmation was made that the outdoor space represents the apartment's fire escape, I knew this for certain by the moonlit shadows on the floor, which create the clear silhouette of an urban fire escape. Interestingly, this effect, since it occurs in the theater's aisle, is noticeable by only part of the audience; yet Rapoport, because of his attention to detail, still felt it important enough to be there. One of most evocative moments in Tom's mnemonic narrative comes when mention is made of the Paradise Dance Hall with which the Wingfields' apartment building shares a back alley. As Tom speaks of the spinning, colored light that illuminates the dance floor, his own face is gently brushed with shifting hues of light.

Similarly, Talia Pura's costume design is couture-perfect for the time in which the play is set, as is Benedetti's realization of the cramped, but not altogether oppressive apartment itself. I took personal delight in the choice to underscore the play with non-intrusive but still emotionally complementary music. I've always felt that more theater productions should do what filmmakers have been doing since the beginning of "talkies": let music accompaniment be an equal partner in the aesthetic design of the production.

So many of the older plays in our American canon have grown moldy with the years. Yet much of Mr. Williams' work continues to resonate and even grow more relevant with time. It is a testament to all the talent that went into this fine, professional production that The Glass Menagerie, a play that continues to speak to us, has found in this intimate and lovingly rendered Santa Fe revival a voice that touches the heart and continues to whisper to us long after its candles have been blown out.

The Glass Menagerie, through June 4, 2017, at Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie B, Santa Fe NM. Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Information and tickets at nmactorslab.com or 505-424-1601. The running time is two hours, including one intermission.


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