New Edgecliff Expands Horizons with The Glass Menagerie
Posted On June 28, 2017
Review by Dan Maloney of The Glass Menagerie: New Edgecliff Theatre
When I first heard New Edgecliff was producing Tennessee Williams’ famed “memory” play The Glass Menagerie, I thought it was the perfect pairing of material and group. Long-known as “Cincinnati Actor’s Theater,” New Edgecliff has a wonderful tradition of producing shows that emphasize the relationship between actor and audience.
The twist with this production? New Edgecliff performs it with an African-American cast.
Inspired by an “All Things Considered” segment on NPR, artistic director Jim Stump explains he started thinking about the Wingfields and asking questions like, “How would the story have been different with an African American family? How would it be the same?”
Director Daryl Harris leads this exploration. A 45-year veteran of traditional, experimental, alternative, applied, and academic theater on five continents, Mr. Harris is both an obvious and ideal choice. His staging capitalizes on Hoffner Lodge’s assets. Though a non-traditional venue, in a lot of ways, the lodge couldn’t be a more perfect location for Williams’ story to unfold. As with any “found space,” there are challenges to overcome – and the solutions in this production aren’t always elegant. But as Tom recounts, “Memory takes a lot of poetic license.” In this sense, the location is magic.
The surrealistic nature of the show is further enhanced by the production design. Farley Norman’s lighting feels as though it comes out of a dream, and Grant Cambridge’s sound design calls to mind shattering glass – though in my opinion, this could have been even more fully realized.
Ultimately, though, the burden of unraveling Williams’ writing falls on the actors – and I’d expect nothing less from a New Edgecliff show. What I’m still trying to figure out a few days later is how or if the casting changed the story for me – or even if it was supposed to. I think I agree with Mr. Stump when he says, “The more I considered it, the more I realized this story could have been about any family, regardless of cultural background.”
Initially, I struggled with Amanda, the family matriarch (Keisha Kemper). Williams’ evocative language wasn’t synching up for me with Ms. Kemper’s portrayal. Around the time Amanda and Tom started talking about movies, something changed. I still can’t quite put my finger on it. Whatever happened, the character landed in my mind. Ms. Kemper had me hook, line, and sinker the rest of the way and was mesmerizing.
NKU students Andrew Ornelas and Talia Brown cover the roles of the Wingfield children, Tom and Laura. Both have the proverbial tools, and their futures look bright. See them now so you can say you remember when. The challenge, though, particularly in a piece like this, is the young performers don’t quite have the well of life experience to drawn upon, which is vital for expressing the pain in Williams’ writing. It will come with time.
Rounding out the ensemble as The Gentleman Caller is Landon E. Horton, who provides a dose of energy and boundless charm. He strikes a very nice chord in his scene with Laura, and I’m looking forward to seeing more work from him in the future.
Overall, there is a lot to like about this New Edgecliff production, and without question, the venture fulfills a need in our cultural zeitgeist. Make time to see it the next two weekends and discover the script’s universality for yourself.
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/.