Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” has always been a beautiful work of art that doesn’t require much fuss, given that the melancholy masterpiece has a certain fragility much like the glass ornaments of its title.
The new stuffy, stilted production at Sacramento Theatre Company aims to enhance Williams’ moody poetry with its own grand stylization but ends up more affected than affecting. Director Casey McClellan eschews most of the play’s props (there are the necessary glass ornaments), which effectively neuters the visual elegance of the play’s written ending. The actors mime such things as smoking cigarettes or eating food, while they also move as if waltzing during set changes, but both sets of movements are more cumbersome than lyrical.
The 1944 play is set in St. Louis but more famously in narrator Tom’s memory. In the opening he compares his storytelling to magic: “But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”
Tom’s truth comes more in the form of disillusion, though, as all the characters suffer from disappointment – some more than others. The only character who escapes is the one we never see – Tom’s absent father. Called “the telephone man who fell in love with long distance,” the father just left the house one day and never came back. Tom will eventually follow in those footsteps.
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The game actors fare unevenly with McClellan’s contrivances.
David Crane’s overreaching Tom presents himself more like a carnival barker than a closeted poet. The performance crumples the nuance of Tom’s conflict between responsibility to his needy family and the vague freedom he desires.
The reliable Janis Stevens as Amanda has fierceness and grit but is cast adrift with only the faded memories her southern debutante past to count upon.
Katherine Stroller’s stiffly knotted-up, fretting Laura briefly unclenches in the play’s best scene, when the long-desired Gentleman Caller (whose name is Jim) finally arrives. Eric Craig’s straightforward Midwestern earnestness embodies Tom’s description of “being an emissary from a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from.” In the dimly lit living room he briefly becomes what Laura has always wanted, but Jim and the moment are apparitions too good to last.
The Glass Menagerie
What: Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” directed by Casey McClellan
Where: Sacramento Theatre Company, Pollock Stage, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Saturday, April 30
Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission