The Ross Valley Players production of 'The Glass Menagerie'
Review by Mitchell Field a member San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle
Ross Valley Players 94th season's current offering, The Glass Menagerie', was Tennessee Williams' first successful play. A five-character, possibly autobiographical 'memory play', set in a shabby St. Louis apartment just before the start of WWII, it won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award in 1945 and Williams went on to become one of America's most highly regarded playwrights.
Tom Wingfield, (the Williams character, played by David Abrams who also directed the production), is in his early twenties and tries to write poetry while dreaming of escape from the banality of his shoe-warehouse job and the constant pressure from his mother Amanda, (Tamar Cohn), a faded Southern Belle, to keep the family's heads above water financially and to help find a suitor for his slightly older sister Laura, (Tina Traboulsi) an isolated, mentally and physically frail girl who has created her own world, centered around her collection of glass figurines.
Williams based the play on a short story he'd written called 'The Gentleman Caller' and in 'Menagerie' the caller is Jim O'Connor, (Jesse Lumb), Tom's co-worker, who also happens to be a former high-school crush of Laura's. The fifth character is Amanda's husband, 'Mr. Wingfield' a handsome charmer who worked for the phone company but who abandoned his family sixteen years earlier, after 'he fell in love with long-distance'...While never appearing onstage, his photo hangs in the apartment and he is often referred to by Amanda...
Ross Valley Players mounted a production of this show for just two performances in 2020, before Covid-19 shut down the world. The return of their 'The Glass Menagerie' which they graciously permitted me to attend on preview night, brings to the North Bay one of the best theater productions, professional or community theater, that I have seen all year.
At a preview, when mistakes, flubbed lines, tech issues and other missteps are routine, this perfectly balanced cast was not just word-perfect but scintillating! The audience was totally rapt and you could have heard the proverbial pin drop throughout the entire performance. This is a great American play and these four Marin-based actors inject it with it every ounce of the love and drama it so richly deserves.
Abrams' excellent direction is spare yet precise on set-designer Tom O'Brien's appropriately dingy stage, built-out by Michael Walraven and Michele Samuels' murky lighting is also 'spot-on', as is the music and sound-design by award-nominated Billie Cox, with costumes by Michael A. Berg and scenic-design by Dhyanis Carniglia.
As to the individual performances:
Traboulsi's Laura, full of self-doubt and twisted with anxiety, keeps her world inside her head and Traboulsi holds it there beautifully, revealing just enough to make us sympathize with her afflictions as we long for her to break out and join the world which she fears judges her. It's a quirky and difficult role to pull-off and neither over nor underdone, Traboulsi's Laura is just right.
Lumb, a first-class local actor with a sparkling resume is the perfect Jim O'Connor, sunny, charming, caring and finally, brutally yet sensitively honest. Lumb, a co-founder with David Abrams of Birdbath Theatres, gets better with each production I see him in.
Abrams, a well-respected theater director and performer whose Mercutio virtually stole a production of Romeo and Juliet in which I saw him a few years ago, is magical as Tom Wingfield. In a role where it would be easy for a lesser actor to go over-the-top emotionally and turn off his audience, (particularly in the scenes in which his mother drives him literally to drink), even during the heated arguments and while sleep-deprived and irritable, Abrams maintains Tom's cool and his sense of humor, as the audience sees and feels his character's dilemma, his obligation yet his burden and we understand his final decision and applaud it.
A superb performance.
In the southern United States, the kudzu vine climbs densely over other plants and trees, smothers and eventually kills them by blocking most of the sunlight and taking root space.
Bay Area stage favorite Tamar Cohn shimmers as Amanda, the cloying, Kudzu-like connective-tissue in this production. In the same understated manner in which Abrams reins-in his Tom, Cohn fearlessly yet lightly imbues Amanda with all the Southern-fried flirtiness, sentimentality and angst of the Mississippi survivor and pragmatist who yearns for the comforts and admiration she remembers from her days as a debutante. Two short 'telephone' scenes are particularly real and heart-breaking, yet through the entire production Cohn, whose character is terrified of ending-up "depending on the kindness of strangers”, resists the temptation to go too flamboyant or outrageously Southern on her audience. Her accent is believable but not a caricature. It's as raw yet delicately sublime a performance as I have seen Cohn give, a memorable display of bravura!
A superb production, do not miss this show, it's a winner!
The Glass Menagerie
Sept. 15 through Oct. 14 2023
Ross Valley Players 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
on the grounds of the Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross, CA.
Tix: (415) 456-9555 ext. 1 www.rossvalleyplayers.com/tickets