Glass Menagerie with a twist at Marin Theatre Company

Top Left: Nicholas Pelczar (Tom) and Sherman Fracher (Amanda),Top Right: Craig Marker (Gentleman Caller) and Anna Bullard (Laura), Lower Left: Sherman Fracher (Amanda), Anna Bullard (Laura) and musician Andrew Wilke in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, now through December 18 at Marin Theatre Company. Photos by Alessandra Mello

The Glass Menagerie: Drama. By Tennessee Williams. Directed by Jasson Minadakis. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. (415) 388-5208 or

December 1- 18, 2011.

Concept performances of Shakespeare’s plays are more common than traditional productions with artistic directors skewing the time and place of the original settings to keep the ancient plays relevant to modern and especially younger audiences. The last time a straight forward Elizabethan version tread the boards was a brilliant Henry VIII at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival three years ago. There is no record of any director taking liberties with a Tennessee Williams play but that has changed with Jasson Minadakis and the Marin Theatre Company’s present staging of The Glass Menagerie.

It would be sacrilege to fiddle with the time and place of the play and Minadakis emphasizes that it was his desire to capture the entrapment the characters endure during the height of the Great Depression. In doing so scenic designer Kat Conley has framed the stage in claustrophobic three storied metal fire escapes and walkways without solid walls eschewing the use of props. Minadakis even has the characters mime the use of props with eating, writing etc. This conceit rather than underscore their meager existence, is very disconcerting often detracting from Williams’ lines that define character. Added to this, using the famous introductory lines “this is a memory play . . . it is not realistic” to justify the addition of an ethereal trumpet player (Andrew Wilkie) as a fourth character to stand in throughout the play on the top level catwalk, as a replacement for the photograph of the departed father who worked for the phone company “and fell in love with long distance.”

Oddly enough the riffs of the trumpet (original music written by Chris Houston) acutely underscore the action of the actors. Those actors make the evening tremendously engrossing. With all the mentioned distractions you may wonder how that can be. It just is.

The play is semi-autobiographical. Before Tennessee Williams became “Tennessee” he was Thomas Lanier Williams and Tom, the observer, narrator and character in the play, is obviously the author’s alter ego. It is eerily uncanny how Nicholas Pelczar captures the Tennessee William’s personae both in looks, with a thin mustache, unruly hair and just the right touch of fey. Whereas it is universally noted that the play “belongs” to the mother Amanda beginning with Laurette Taylor in the 1940s production to a who’s who in the female acting world, Minadakis’ direction makes this Tom’s play. He never allows Tom to leave the stage and always making him an astute observer by moving him to various levels of the set. Pelczar gives a Tony Award winning performance.

This is not to say that Sherman Fracher's Amanda Wingfield takes a back seat to Pelczar’s Tom. She does not. As she recalls in exquisite youthful detail the 17 gentleman callers who sought her hand and now as nagging, chattering martyr who maintains her Southern charm, Fracher gives a nuanced performance at every turn.

And then there is Anna Bullard’s heart wrenching performance as the shy, crippled Laura. She seems as fragile as her glass menagerie. Amanda will not allow anyone to use the word “cripple” but Laura is not only physically but also emotionally crippled that is reflected in her face, posture and hesitant speech patterns. Her silence speaks volumes especially in her reaction to her mother’s unexpected outburst near the end of the play and to the discovery that her “gentleman caller” is already taken.

And finally, that euphemistic “gentleman caller”, are words that have become a main stay in our lexicon. Craig Marker makes his entrance in the final scene and could not play the role better. The blustery, self confident former high school all around boy who finds that his reality has not matched his expectations radiates across the footlights.

The two hour and 15 minutes, including the intermission, will keep you riveted and even provide a few unexpected light moments making the evening well worth the trip across the Bay to Mill Valley.

Kedar K. Adour,MD

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