[Reviewed by Martin Rushmere]
Powerful and subtle performances highlight the Marin Theatre Company’s absorbing depiction of the doomed destiny of the Wingfield family in 1930s St Louis. Subtlety from Anna Bullard as the pathologically shy Laura, matched against the power of Nicholas Pelczar as her brother Tom and Sherman Fracher as her mother Amanda, who is obsessed with the need to introduce Laura to “gentleman callers”, whom she urges Tom to bring home.
Reinforcing the engrossing tale is the monochrome lighting and set design. The use of steel ladders going nowhere is extremely effective, as the family tries to escape its emotional and physical shackles.
Laura’s anguish is pitch perfect in a demanding role, with her mannerisms, gestures and stilted speech grabbing the audience. When you almost want to reach out to comfort and soothe her and then shout out “Get out and make something of your life”, you’re watcvh8ing a terrific performance.
Amanda wonderfully comes out as the Domineering, Neurotic Woman that is such a feature of Williams’s plays. And like Blanche in Streetcar, the death knell is sounded at the very end with the phrase “your sister a cripple”. So many plays are renowned for one line (think Wilde’s Lady Bracknell and her “In a handbag?” in The Importance of Being Earnest) that the audience waits especially keenly for the moment.
Just a tad more of a pause and different emphasis would have brought it out even more strongly.
Tom’s mixed sense of futility and desperation shines through the tale, trying to escape his dead-end existence. Perhaps his most notable achievement is to bring out the poetry that weaves through Williams’s scripts and is often ignored.
Craig Marker is the “Gentleman Caller”. He has a big shadow to cast, following on from the compelling first act. Convincing as a high school star now meandering into mediocrity – but actually trying to break out — he brings out THAT CHUCKLE effectively. (A clutch of twenty-somethings in the audience guffawing in derision failed to detract).
The actors relate so effortlessly and assuredly with each other that they almost seem to possess ESP, which supercharges the staging
And Tennessee Williams? His anguish and personal strife come through in all his plays. Luckily his dramatic talents were such that they are worthwhile being staged, otherwise one would dismiss him with “Get over it. We all have problems.”
But, his sense of Undeserving Victim was ridiculous when Menagerie was first staged. In mid-1944 millions of Americans were facing death in battle and back home the families wanted escapism and entertainment to distract them. Along comes Menagerie, which understandably is shunned, and Williams – safe from the frontline – gets all depressed and mutters “Ohh, woe is me.”
Spare a thought for other people sometime.
You can contact the reviewer, Martin Rushmere, at firstname.lastname@example.org.