Theater is a living, evolving art, and that is aptly demonstrated this weekend when Ensemble Theatre Company opens its 2010 – 11 season with Alan Brody’s “The Housewives of Mannheim.” Brody’s play made it out of the 2007 writers workshops to the desk of director SuzAnne Barabas, whose New Jersey Repertory Company has since been living with the play, molding, creating and claiming the characters as its own.
In a rare move for Ensemble, the director and cast have come to Santa Barbara to mount this West Coast premiere.
During the original stage run of Joe Orton’s “Loot,” which features a dead mother as a plot device that spurs the action, the playwright’s mother died.
Orton went to Leicester for the funeral, then returned to London and the production. There is a scene where the dead mother’s false teeth are played like castanets. Backstage, Orton handed his mother’s real set to the actor Kenneth Cranham, who blanched.
First thoughts upon entering the Alhecama Theatre for this production of “The Glass Menagerie” — has the stage ever contained this much depth? By its use of sliding doors, three levels, and some beautiful floor lighting, we get taken back to the dark and dank St. Louis tenement where playwright Tennessee Williams exorcised the ghosts of his past and reincarnated them as unforgettable characters.
On walks Tom Wingfield, played by Joe Delafield. He stands outside the tenement he shares with his mother and sister, lights a cigarette and leans against the wall, looking like the anti-hero in a film noir. But he’s no gumshoe, and his staccato Southern accent — young, fast, clipped, like George W. Bush, but with 10 times the vocabulary — lays out the rules of the play: Memory, spirits, exaggerations. And then there are the things that we realize he is not telling us about: shame, guilt, betrayal, and regret.
There’s a lot of dust and funk that has covered “The Glass Menagerie” in the 65 years since its premiere. The campy parodies, the popular and “definitive” portrayals of the Wingfield family by stars like Katharine Hepburn, John Malkovich and Karen Allen. The celluloid amber of Anthony Harvey’s 1973 version. But if any company in town can polish and make this classic look brand new, it’s Jonathan Fox and Ensemble Theatre.
“The characters have become iconic and the lines are so well-known, like ‘Hamlet,’ ” says Fox, who directs. “It becomes a challenge to figure out what might be fresh.”