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Review: A delicate yet powerful production of 'The Glass Menagerie'

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The Glass Menagerie

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When “The Glass Menagerie” premiered in 1944, playwright Tennessee Williams was largely unknown. From there, the Mississippi-born author penned such classics as “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Orpheus Descending” among others. However, it is “The Glass Menagerie” that stands as the only semi-autobiographical work from Williams, based on his histrionic mother and fragile sister. Despite its age, “The Glass Menagerie” stands today as a classic among American theater, with relevance and emotion that can still pack a powerful wallop. You can catch Phamaly Theatre Company’s (formerly known as the Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League) production of “The Glass Menagerie” March 7, 8 and 9 when it re-opens at the Lone Tree Arts Center, after closing its recent run at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.

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For those that aren’t familiar with the story, “The Glass Menagerie” follows the lives of a family in St. Louis in the mid 1940s. The mother, Amanda (Ashley Kelashian,) is a faded southern belle, abandoned by her husband and by life. She struggles to raise her two children and yet yearns for a better life, one with the comforts that money can bring. Tom and Laura (Daniel Traylor and Jenna Bainbridge) are Amanda’s children. Tom works at a warehouse to support the family, though he longs for something more, spending every night out at the movies, dreaming of a better life. In contrast, Laura is isolated and shy, ravaged by the results of a childhood illness, she spends the majority of her time lost her collection of small glass figurines.

Amanda, convinced that the only hope for Laura’s happiness is to find a man, urges Tom to bring home a friend from work to meet her. Tom reluctantly agrees and brings home Jim (Eric Richerson) a coworker and former high school friend of both Tom and Laura’s. Though Jim and Laura share a long conversation, it is clear that no happy ending is in sight, and it is through a series of dramatic and powerful scenes that the audience watches as Amanda lashes out at her son, while Tom and Laura struggle to find their place.

“The Glass Menagerie” is always a powerful production, however when it is brought to the stage by the Phamaly team, something magical happens. These aren’t simply capable actors diving into the world written by Tennessee Williams. These are brilliant artists, pulling from their own world and finding the truth of their characters within themselves. Bainbridge is delicate and exquisite as Laura, with genuine pain and heart wrenching emotion behind her expressive eyes. Traylor’s Tom is equally powerful, bringing wisdom far beyond his years, one that only comes from someone that has his own lifetime of struggles behind him. However, it is Ashley Kelashian that really stuns in her powerhouse performance. At first she comes across as bigger-than-life, with a broadness that seems to surpass those on stage around her. However, as the play progresses, it is that very broadness that creates the chasm between Amanda and her family. That faded southern belle insists on ringing loudly, and her maniacal breakdowns give meaning to each and every moment for Tom and Laura. Kelashian is the driving force throughout this impressive production.

Technically, everything in this production is stunning. The blue set (M. Curtis Gritter) evokes the fluidity and emotion needed to carry the constant memories and emotion of the story and the moments of projection work (El Armstrong) enhance the already poetic nature of the script. Lighting (Stephen D. Mazzeno) is also incredibly effective, with a lot of very subtle movement and dramatic mood. It is also important to mention the brilliant work by composer Raechel Sherwood, who created the perfect music to underscore the show, enhancing each emotion while never distracting.

As a script, “The Glass Menagerie” may show its age in parts. The antiquated notion that a woman must be married to be happy seems outdated on the surface, but still carries relevance some 70 years later. However, while times have (mostly) changed, there is something enduring about the poetic journey created by Tennessee Williams. Director Bryce Alexander has created a beautiful tribute to Williams’ story, brought to vivid life by four truly impressive actors and an entire team of dedicated designers. If you’ve never seen “The Glass Menagerie” before, then you simply must take the time to visit the Lone Tree Arts Center when it returns. If you have seen it before, you’ll want to see this production even more, as it stands as one of the stronger dramas presented by Phamaly, or any theatre company, this year.

Phamaly Theatre Company Presents:
“The Glass Menagerie”
March 7-9
at the Lone Tree Arts Center
Lone Tree Arts Center
10075 Commons St.
Lone Tree, CO 80124
Friday, March 7 at 10:00 a.m. & 8:00 p.m.;
Saturday, March 8 at 8 p.m.;
Sunday, March 9 at 1:30 p.m.
Tickets: $15 March 7 @ 10 a.m.;
all other performances $26-$38
720-509-1000 or www.phamaly.org

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