Human Race Theatre is on a heck of a run this season.
Starting with a buoyant production of THE FULL MONTY followed by a classic retelling of the quintessential theatre chick-flick, STEEL MAGNOLIAS they seem to have refocused themselves this year.
But with this pitch-perfect version of THE GLASS MENAGERIE they have outdone themselves. And pretty much every other production running right now.
Director Greg Hellems has cast a remarkable foursome for the Tennessee Williams classic. Jennifer Joplin plays “Amanda Wingfield, the mother of “Tom” (Scott Hunt) and “Laura” (Claire Kennedy). They are an old-fashioned family, thanks to Amanda’s overbearing demeanor. If Tom had it his way, he’d be long gone. Super shy Laura is quite content to stay home and imagine a world of glass animals – her “glass menagerie.”
Amanda is focused on finding Laura a husband; Tom agrees to bring a gentleman caller home from his job at a warehouse. “Jim,” played by Drew Vidal, comes bringing hope. At first.
One of the remarkable things about this play is how patiently it unfolds. I’ve been critical of productions that go too long, especially in a modern era. But my issue hasn’t been with the length, per se. I had mentally prepared myself for a three-hour theatrical journey earlier in the day. (Act One and Act Two are both about 75 minutes long.)
But not once was I bored. Not once did I need to look at my watch, wondering how much longer. I was engaged, drawn in, and enchanted by this delicious feast of theatre genius.
Each member of the cast brings something special to their roles. Joplin is always proficient; here she absorbs herself into all of Amanda’s regrets, dreams, and underlying bitterness. She avoids caricature while keeping the integrity of her damaged southern belle. Hunt’s “Tom” is sad, downtrodden, but hopeful for an escape. His eyes are expressive, his body language matches the beautifully tragic words of the playwright in just the right tone. And when he finally loses his cool, its a triumphant moment for the audience but it serves to only make him sadder.
Claire Kennedy has a difficult task. She has the least to say but the most to feel. Her “Laura” is sympathetic. We are rooting for her, which is a compliment to the actress, as the character could easily be more pathetic than empathetic. She makes the most of her facial expressions and her subtle physicality is more than effective.
Finally, Drew Vidal as “Jim” practically steals the show despite only appearing in the second act. First, he looks the part. It’s nice to see a handsome young actor who isn’t just a pretty face; his performance is authentic, believable, and inspiring. It’s easy to see why Laura would have been attracted to him in high school. The chemistry between them in the dramatic climax was mesmerizing.
Eric Barker’s set design is luscious. John Rensel’s lighting is exceptional. Jay Brunner’s sound design is exquisite. My only beef is with the costume design; “Tom’s” clothes were awfully baggy.
I can’t recommend THE GLASS MENAGERIE enough. This is how classic theatre should be done. You should all – even those of you in Cincinnati – need to make the trip. You will not be disappointed.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE runs through February 21st at the Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton. Tickets and more information can be found here.