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New Edgecliff Returns to the Classics with The Glass Menagerie

Review by Lissa Urriquia Gapultos of The Glass Menagerie: New Edgecliff Theatre

New Edgecliff Theatre’s current production The Glass Menagerie is classic Tennessee Williams with bombastic family dynamics and touches of Southern charm and grit.

Tyler Gabbard’s set design worked well with the Hoffner Lodge configuration. With the play taking place in the 1930s, the stage featured quite a few signature items of that time: rotary phone, typewriter, Victrola. The titular glass menagerie was center stage, displayed on circular shelves which wrapped around a structural pillar.

The play opens with Andrew Ornelas as the son, Tom, who introduces the audience to his world, namely his mother Amanda, his sister Laura and their absent father represented by a frame photo. Ornelas sounded vocally shaky at first, then gradually settled into a nice rhythm. As the card-carrying southern belle, Keisha Kemper comically portrays an overbearing mother, who is frustrated that her children are not the model adults she envisioned. It’s apparent she relishes the fittingly over-the-top histrionics of the character, which elicits snarky reactions between the siblings.

Some of the strongest moments of the play are during the mother-and-son arguments when both Kemper and Ornelas hold back nothing in expressing their contempt for each other. Tired of being treated like a child despite being the family’s main source of income, Tom feels trapped in his dull warehouse job and the anxiety at home. Amanda insists Tom is being selfish by spending too much time and money at the movies, rather than focusing more on the family. Their heated interactions are meaty and satisfying to watch.

Portrayed by Talia Brown, Laura is the extreme balance of the two. Walking with a limp, Brown is reserved, aloof and confused by her mother’s idea of gentle callers. Laura’s shyness is so severe it cripples her socially, causing her to almost immediately drop out from business school. Yet when Amanda discovers Laura has not been attending classes, it was hard to detect any sort of reaction from Brown. Her portrayal was less socially awkward, and more as someone who has resigned herself to a mere background character in her own life.

Landon E. Horton plays James, the Gentleman Caller, with an easy-going charm. He’s confident and likeable, and it’s lovely to watch as his polite manner melts away enough of Laura’s apprehension that she allows him to hold her favorite glass figure, a unicorn. It’s heart-breaking to learn why James will not come calling again.

The glass animals of Laura’s menagerie are what give her great joy, consuming nearly all of her time. It’s clear that this collection of glass symbolizes Laura’s fragility and vulnerability, but it also is her own world, where she finds comfort in caring for delicate inanimate objects. Like her mother, Laura also has her own fantasy. While Amanda’s dreams for her daughter are squarely rooted in the colorful stories of her youth in the south, Laura is completely content with her very boxed-in reality among her beloved glass menagerie, where she is in a position of strength and control.

The Glass Menagerie plays at New Edgecliff through February 25th. For tickets, call the box office at (888) 428.7311 or visit http://newedgecliff.com/box-office-2/.