When actor-director Han Fleischmann enters to begin the often all-too-familiar proceedings that comprise “A Glass Menagerie, it’s a bit of a shock. His Tom is not the typical willowy Tennessee Williams surrogate. He’s a bum; perhaps one who wandered in off the corner of Broadway and Sheridan. Fleischmann’s darting eyes, jittery finger-pointing and gravelly voice all point to ‘A Glass Menagerie’ that a normal audience would not be expecting. Yet it also triumphs by sticking quite closely to the author’s original intentions, albeit filtered through a very grimy lens.
Fleischmann’s distinctive take on the Williams classic expresses itself mainly through the set. Designed by the always wonderful Grant Sabin, the Mary Arrchie stage is turned into a dank back-alley. And instead of filling the stage with glass scrulptures as a more obvious production might, Sabin and Fleischmann instead opt for bottles. The set is literally covered in them. Room is left for the actors to maneuver but little else. Echoes of Williams’ well-documented alcoholism are easily inferred.
Amongst these fragile little sentinels wander the actors, who, for the show’s first act, never once look each other in the eye. Fleischmann stages the scenes with a cinematic touch: each character is in close-up, open to audience for us to read their pain, their hidden desires. But never once do they connect within one another. They are each lost in their own private fantasies. It is all too frequent to see actors talking past each other but quite refreshing to see it done intentionally.
Luckily, the actors in this production acquit themselves admirably. Fleischmann brings an incendiary flash to Tom’s eminent sense of self-destruction, while Joanne Dubach traces Laura’s slow, psychic implosion with delicate care. And while Maggie Cain doesn’t quite nail the intensity at the heart of Amanda’s seething, smothering ambitions for her wayward brood, she likewise avoids the trap of going all-out camp. But the show’ most assured performance belongs to Walter as The Gentleman Caller, the plays most assured character. He finds the perfect balance of idealism and arrogance that leads Jim to bulldoze the Wingfields’ delicate ecosystem and his performance really is a delight.
Utliziing original music by Daniel Knox, and moody, expressive lighting by Matthew Gawryk, not to mention Williams’ rarely-used title projections, Fleischmann has a created a show that is both true to its source and an electrifying reinvention. It’s best described as a “Glass Menagerie” that’s exactly as weird as Williams always intended it to be.