Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dinner with unicorns - "The Glass Menagerie" Nordo-style

The Glass Menagerie (Jeff Carpenter)
The Glass Menagerie
The Williams Project and Café Nordo
Through September 3, 2016

I have never eaten with the Wingfield family, so it was with hope for a unique experience that I went to the Culinarium, Café Nordo’s home, to experience what eating with the Wingfield’s would be like. If you don’t know who they are, they’re the family in the play, The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams.

The Williams Project, a group of east coast actors who seem to be coming to Seattle for summer residencies, focus a lot of their attention on their namesake’s work. They also seem, in the experience I’ve had with two Williams plays they’ve done here, to work particularly hard at deconstructing and reconstructing Williams in a fresh and far from stereotypical way.

I certainly got what I was expecting! I got a deconstructed and new look at an old chestnut we think we know all about, and I got a Southern cuisine dinner (pot roast, black-eyed peas, collard greens, cornbread) capped off with a very rich Ooey Gooey Butter Cake. Quite a satisfying evening all around!

Artistic director Ryan Purcell and collective members Grant Chapman (as Tom), Elise LeBreton (as Laura), Nancy Moricette (as mama Amanda) and Leicester Landon (as the “gentleman caller”) infuse this often staid memory play with a lot of modern touches, some that leave you scratching your head and some that infuse better meaning into the play.

A weird moment is when LeBreton slams on a blond wig and headset to rock out to Chandelier by Sia. What? I guess it’s a reference to drinking to forget, or maybe referencing Laura’s escapism. I think the audience has to strain a bit too hard to contextualize that one.

But an effect that I loved is when LeBreton and Chapman say the words for Amanda that she mouths. In the script, clearly Amanda has those lines, but the idea that Tom and Laura have heard her say these things so often that they have them memorized is a very clear one.

Chapman delivers Tom’s lines with a not too subtle Gay aspect, which brings another very apt and important biographical issue out in this text: Tennessee Williams spent much of his life as a closeted Gay man and Tom’s “going to the movies” escapes are easy to allowably be recognized as his hopes to find a man.

Casting Moricette, an African American actor, as Amanda could be viewed just as more disbelief to suspend in a very active show where much needs suspension. However, it’s also probably a way to emphasize the “service” Amanda gives to her two more privileged children in a time when there was very much less of a social “safety net” in our society – no welfare, no retraining money, etc. There is a particular line in the script that wakes you up to think about that when she refers to race. (In Scene 1, Amanda says to Laura, “No, sister, no, sister - you be the lady this time and I'll be the darky…”)

The play is less realistic than most other productions, which is interesting, but the scene with Jim and Laura is played relatively straight – as called for, and Landon is lovely as the period-appropriate Jim. His chemistry with LeBreton reads very well, too, and it is a scene well worth waiting for.

There is only this weekend left to enjoy this work, so if this sumptuous dinner and show calls to you, you should call to reserve a seat. It is a longish evening, but if you bring your Southern patience, you will be rewarded.

For more information, go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2571607 or call 800-838-3006.