Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Sorrowfully Withering Production of
The Glass Menagerie

Also see Richard's reviews of Mack and Mabel and Shopping! The Musical

Rita Moreno and Terrence Riordan
The Berkeley Repertory Company is currently presenting Tennessee Williams' 1945 memory play The Glass Menagerie at the Thrust Stage on Addison Street, Berkeley. The production stars a woman who won an Oscar, a Tony, a Grammy and two Emmys: the wonderful Rita Moreno. The drama has been getting full houses at every performance and it has been extended to June 18.

Maybe I am just old fashioned and maybe I am too close to this play, but I just could not cotton up to the performance of Ms. Moreno or to the production itself. Les Waters has directed a play without any of the heartfelt wistfulness I have seen in prior productions. This is now a straight play about a shrewish mother who over dominates her son and daughter.

The Glass Menagerie at the Royal Theatre in New York was one of the first productions I saw after being discharged from the United States Air Force. I saw one of the greatest performances of the 20th century when the divine Laurette Taylor graced the stage as Amanda Wingfield. Just three years later, when working as a fledging assistant camera man in the cinematography department of Warners, I watched another great actress, Gertrude Lawrence, play the role of the dominating mother.

Over the years I have seen Maureen Stapleton play the role twice, once in 1965 and a revival in 1975. I saw Jessica Tandy play a hard mother in the role and later Julie Harris in the 1995 revival. Two regional productions I have reviewed are listed in past columns.

Director Les Waters and Rita Moreno have taken a different route in presenting this "dream play." It is no longer a memory play but a hard to digest straight drama with a dominating mother who borders on neurotic. I love Rita Moreno when she does her cabaret act. I love the fiery spirit of this talented actress in film and television performances. However, in this production, Miss Moreno becomes almost a caricature of a mother from hell.

She has no wistfulness about her as Amanda. You just can't feel sorry for her in any way and she runs a tight ship with the son and daughter who have problems of their own. The scene in the first act, in which Amanda dominates son Tom on his eating habits, is almost farcical. One wonders why Tom just doesn't shove the plate of food into her face. She would be enough to drive a person crazy.

Les Walters and costumer Lydia Tanji do not do Ms. Moreno justice when they dress her in an outlandish old fashioned ball gown straight out of Gone With the Wind to play host to the Gentlemen Caller in the second act. The gown and makeup make her look like Bette Davis as Baby Jane. Even her patter with the caller is completely overboard and it turns to a farce in the broadest sense of the word. One wonders why the caller just does not get out of the house when he confronts Amanda.

Les Walters has made Erik Lochtefeld as the son Tom into Tennessee Williams. The actor takes on the manner and dialect of the playwright as he wanders about the small compact stage. Here you get the sense that he is a closeted homosexual. Emily Donahoe seems lost in this production as she mopes about the stage saying very little. She is the personification of the word downtrodden.

Terrence Riordan comes on strong as the Gentlemen Caller. He has a distinct, powerful voice and gives the slow production a needed spark.

Scenic designer Scott Brandley has devised a shoe box set that is distinctly claustrophobic. Waters throws a gloomy feeling over the whole production, even with the comedy relief of Ms. Moreno in the second act. He steers his four actors along saddened observable routes. There is a superficial depth of feeling from all of the actors and it becomes a straight unfeeling play that does an injustice to the great poetic writing of Tennessee Williams.

The Glass Menagerie runs through June 18 at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Trust Stage located at 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets please call 510-647-2949. Their next production will be Moliere's The Miser opening on May 12 and running through June 15.

Photo: Ken Friedman

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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