Monday, April 11, 2011

The Troubled Life of Blue Roses

The Troubled Life of Blue Roses

By Tom Wachunas

For those either unfamiliar with, or too-long out of touch with Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” be forewarned. This memory play is a drama more chilly than heartwarming, even as it embraces complicated matters of the heart both romantic and otherwise, with the emotional brunt of it occupying the ‘otherwise’ territory. Still, while it certainly doesn’t provide very many niceties of feel-good escapism, it is - as I was strongly reminded by the current production on the Fine Arts Theatre stage at Kent State University at Stark- an intriguing (at times riveting) and substantially engaging story about three members of a broken family living worlds apart under the same roof.

The story unfolds in late 1930s St. Louis, in the modest apartment occupied by Amanda Wingfield and her two grown children, Tom and Laura. The father abandoned the family years ago, leaving Amanda – a faded flower of Southern gentility - largely dependent on Tom’s job in a shoe warehouse for income. She’s obsessed with high hopes that a “gentleman caller” – like the moneyed dozens she constantly recalls from before her marriage – will woo and win her daughter’s hand. Meanwhile Laura, unemployed and handicapped with a limp due to childhood pleurosis, is a hopelessly shy, frail young woman given to shining and staring at her collection of tiny glass animal figurines. Tom, an aspiring poet, narrates the story, addressing the audience from the alley and fire escape landing outside the apartment. He’s a dreamer too, frustrated with a confining job and home life, and prone to long nights out drinking or at the movie house, all the while desperate for any adventure that would release him from the grips of poverty and his controlling mother. Late in the play he facilitates a dinner visit to the apartment from his effervescent and ambitious co-worker, Jim O’Connor (who in high school had mis-heard Laura’s ailment and nicknamed her ‘Blue Roses’), raising his mother’s expectations of a successful match for Laura. But it was not to be, much to Amanda and Laura’s chagrin.

This production is directed by Brian Newberg, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Theatre Director at Kent Stark, and his sharp ensemble cast brings this sobering story to life with notable depth and sensitivity. In the role of Tom, Bryant Campbell sometimes speaks too quickly, or perhaps non-distinctly, and some lines fade away, unclear. But he’s nonetheless fascinating to watch as he negotiates the tensions within his character – protective of his sister, adversarial toward his mother, and dreaming of lofty, artful things, yet apparently unable or unwilling to soothe the raw reality of sadness in the household around him. As Jim, Jeremy Jenkins is very effective as something of an opposite – suave, self-assured, infectiously optimistic, and genuinely tender and encouraging toward Laura. In that role, even though Danielle Price has the smallest speaking role, her elegant and subtle performance successfully communicates the nuances of her private heart opening up, if only for a brief while, to the possibilities of being confident in herself and finding real, meaningful contact with another. Like her menagerie, she’s gentle and transparent. Hurting no one, she’s the most vulnerable and in many ways the most misunderstood member of this hapless family.

In her compelling portrayal of Amanda, Marci Paolucci is on one level the character we love to hate. She’s utterly credible in her appearance of genteel etiquette while being shamelessly manipulative and maddeningly self-involved with memories of her idyllic youth. Yet hiding behind this flawed mask of manners, and her denial of the circumstances before her, is an authentically wounded soul willing to go to any length for the happiness of her children.

In as much as the play certainly contains darker autobiographical shadings of the playwright’s past (the subject of much scholarly commentary and analysis), it continues to resonate as an intense if not ambivalent glimpse at societal dysfunctions still very much in our midst. No heroic white knights to the rescue, no blissfully tidy answers. And so it is that this production is a vigorously well-crafted rendering of art imitating some of life’s more vexing ghosts.

Photo: Danielle Price as Laura (left) and Marci Paolucci as Amanda in the Kent State University at Stark production of “The Glass Menagerie.” Shows are on April 15 and 16 at 8 p.m., April 17 at 2:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Theatre, located in the Fine Arts building, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton. Tickets $10 adults, $5 students under 17 and senior citizens. Call the Theatre Box Office at (330) 244 – 3348, Monday – Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

No comments: