Sunday, April 12, 2009

What the Critics Had to Say about The Glass Menagerie

Where Y'At? Magazine: March 2, 2009

The Great Depression and Guernica make up the social and historical backgrounds of the play. Hunger, desperation, and angst are the things that fill place and time, saturating the Wingfields’ little tenement apartment in St. Louis. Yet the expression of their lives is manifested with poetry. …

I asked Glenn and the others why do this play, or better yet, why should anyone come see it? It’s classic American theatre and that doesn’t seem to happen too often locally.

“It’s beautiful.” “It’s Tennessee Williams’ breakthrough success…” There were several responses, but I think the most interesting wasn’t said: we are in a recession on the brink of financial/economic devastation as wars continue to rage in Iraq and Afghanistan. We struggle to hold on to things like hope and belonging – to not fall into the spiraling traps in anomie. I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say Williams gives a voice to such things. And isn’t finding a kind of exorcism in a relatable piece of poetic theatre enough reason to support the play?

Being a bohemian himself, being no stranger to poverty, it’s fitting for Mr. Williams’ work to be staged at The Marigny. It’s the kind of house and talent pool that should be doing his theatre. Well, that being said, Glenn Meche’s poetic eye, and fluent, organic style of direction gives us a fresh production of Tennessee Williams’ career-launching breakthrough play, The Glass Menagerie. Do yourself a favor and see it.

It’s important to support this venue (and like venues). The Marigny Theatre is a stage that deserves to survive this brutal economy. This community-driven theatre gives space and opportunity for both artistic growth and experimentation as well as quality productions of both new and tried plays. If there are safety concerns with going to see a play on this side of town, the guidelines are very simple: be smart and aware, like anywhere else. Carpool, park on the street (the lot isn’t lit well), walk in groups. Don’t let perceived ideas of the area stop you from patronizing the Marigny/Bywater area theatres or music venues.

The cast is as follows: Lyla Hay Owen (Amanda), Keith Launey (Tom), Liz Mills (Laura), and Leon Contavesprie (Gentleman Caller).

This is an incredible opportunity to see a gifted, passionate cast of actors in a classic American play.

- Louie Crowder

Lyla Hay Owen returns to the stage in 'Menagerie'
The Times-Picayune: March 20, 2009

New Orleans actress Lyla Hay Owen doesn't have to dig deep to find the sadness and fragility needed to tackle her comeback role as Amanda Wingfield in "The Glass Menagerie" at Marigny Theatre.

One of the great ladies of the New Orleans theater returned to the stage just nine months after the sudden death of her daughter, New Orleans stage icon Cynthia Owen, and the recent loss of her husband, Larry Landers, who died of liver cancer.

At an evening rehearsal for the play, which opened March 18, the veteran actress said producer Donnie Jay approached her about taking the part.

"He was worried about me," she said, noting that many of her peers were encouraging her to deal with her grief by getting back onstage.

Now, Owen feels like she is just coming back to life, working with "a wonderful cast," including co-stars Keith Launey and Liz Mills as her children Tom and Laura. Leon Contavesprie plays Jim, Laura's ubiquitous Gentleman Caller.

With the exception of a cabaret show with her daughter Cynthia and another with Jim Walpole in 2006, Owen, an actress, playwright, director, composer-lyricist, singer and teacher, had done little onstage in recent years.

After a brief retirement, she has also now returned to the classroom, teaching Talented in Theatre students at Warren Easton, Esperanza, and Edward Hynes charter schools.

"I love teaching the talented what they love, helping them to discover the depths of their creative abilities," she said.

She uses improvisational games that she learned from her days at Chicago's Second City, as well as scene work from Williams' plays and other classics.

"I always tell my students: acting is one of the professions that the older you get, the better you get as long as you stay healthy. That's because you have all these resources: your experiences and knowledge, you have more of yourself available to not only move yourself but an audience, as well."

Williams' writing "calls for sensible, poetical actors who are grandiose, who can go to that big, dark place," Owen said. "He's very demanding. You can't just say his words. You have to invest a great deal to do Williams well."

And, she adds "you have to have a Southern sensibility. It really has to be in your blood because the characters are so different."

The play is being staged before and during the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, but it is not part of the festival itself.

Speaking of the personal losses she has endured, Owen quotes the playwright. "Amanda says to Tom in 'The Glass Menagerie' 'Life's not easy, it calls for -- Spartan endurance,' she said. "My husband was the love of my life. He was only 53. But I was grateful he died in my arms and not hooked up to machines. It was beautiful, his last words to me were: 'Are you going to be all right?' That's love. So I had some beautiful moments with death."

Of her daughter, actress and chanteuse Cynthia Owen, she said: "She was generous, and so adorable and filled with life. I can not believe that this spirit, filled with light and love is gone.

"God, I miss her. I've got all of her CDs. I can't listen to them yet."

Far from giving Owen a thick skin, the actress says the losses "brought me closer to sadness and death and the reality of life." She quotes lines from Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot": "Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave-digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old."

"You have to just move on," she says.

- Paul Broussard, Contributing Writer

Director Glenn Meche holds up a mirror to life's truths in his staging of Williams' 'Glass Menagerie'
THE TIMES-PICAYUNE, March 26, 2009

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Meche
(Gentleman caller Leon Contavesprie shares a tender moment with Liz Mills as Laura in Tennessee Williams' 'The Glass Menagerie'.)

The grace and poetry of Tennessee Williams' language can be a trap, similar to Shakespeare, so languorously enveloping the audience in the playwright's words that it misses out on the drama being presented on stage.

Director Glenn Meche's production of "The Glass Menagerie," now at the Marigny Theatre, embraces the audience with the warmth of those words while also giving it a brisk slap in which the drama resonates, vitally coming to life.

Although the narrator claims that none of the characters should be seen as real, Meche counters the notion with the approach of verismo opera, heightening the emotions and realism to expose greater truths.

At the heart of Williams' largely autobiographical story is the artist's longing to break free from his overbearing mother, his miserable job and his emotionally and physically crippled sister -- and the guilt he feels about it all. Tom, the son, narrates the story of his past, but in Meche's production it is viewed not through the gauzy lens of memory, but in the alcoholic haze into which the poet has fallen.

Keith Launey plays Tom with a harder edge than we're used to seeing, which elevates the realism. Having escaped and become the poet and writer he had dreamed of being, he remains haunted by the past. Launey's visceral reactions and seething emotions suggest the poet not as Keats or Shelley but more as a Bukowski or Ginsberg.

Liz Mills gives Laura a ghostlike otherworldliness. With her long, red hair and faraway look, she evokes a pre-Raphaelite imagery, out of place and time of her environs. Her gentle, soft-spoken portrayal is as delicate and rare as blue roses.

The Gentleman Caller is played by Leon Contavesprie with convincing kindness, as he realizes the situation he has been invited into: to be introduced to a co-worker's sister in the hopes that romance is sparked. His lengthy scene with Laura is touching and true. He is in many ways the opposite of Tom, having decided to lift himself beyond his own place through a pragmatic plan of action, rather than merely seeking escape at the movies or in a bottle.

Any production of "The Glass Menagerie" sparkles or shatters with the role of Amanda Wingfield, the mother of all mothers. Lyla Hay Owen is a revelation in the part, depicting Amanda not as the lost soul nearly as delusional as Blanche DuBois, but instead as one of those velvet-gloved but iron-fisted ladies of the South. Owen's Amanda is equal parts Dragon Lady and relentless flirt.

She is not lost in her colonnaded world of 17 gentlemen callers in one afternoon. She fully knows the desperate straits in which she and Laura will be placed when Tom likely follows in the footsteps of his father -- "the telephone man who fell in love with long distances." This makes her situation all the more authentic and her determination true.

While some actresses play Amanda as the villain, Owen unleashes her heart. In doing so, she allows a grateful audience to express its own appreciation at seeing one of this city's finest actresses on stage once again.

- Theodore P. Mahne is a contributing writer for The Times-Picayune.

Steppin' Out, WYES-TV 12, March 27, 2009

By now, the theatre-going public knows Tennessee Williams’ most popular and most performed play, THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Said to be Mr.Williams’ most “identifiable” play, it tells the story of Tom, the emerging writer and his wounded sister, Laura, living in a shabby St. Louis apartment controlled by his sweet - yet domineering - mother, Amanda. As Tom’s sister Laura is so deeply shy, into this unhappy mix arrives “The Gentleman Caller” who they hope will rescue them from a future of unhappiness.

One of the reasons why THE GLASS MENAGERIE rings with such truthfulness is that young Tennessee Williams lived much of it himself. As great a play as THE GLASS MENAGERIE is - and even though it remains so popular on Broadway and, especially, in community theatres all over the world - it is not an easy or sure-footed play. It requires a cast and a director who can deal with the fragile qualities of Mr.Williams’ hurtful script. Happily, the Marigny Theatre has [a] gifted director and a cast of talented actors exactly right for each realistic role.

[This] director ... never “pushes” his actors into histrionics – instead, he permits the action and the high emotions to flow easily and naturally.

Keith Launey is ideal as Tom, the Tennessee Williams character, about to abandon his contentious mother and his crippled sister Laura, played by the ravishing Liz Mills (who never makes a false move on stage). Leon Contavesprie, as the Gentleman Caller, the only healthy minded-character in THE GLASS MENAGERIE, provides the easy charm and strength his role requires.

But this play is dominated by Amanda, the saccharine mother who rules her children like a drill sergeant. Although I have seen THE GLASS MENAGERIE many times, I cannot imagine an actress more comfortable in the role than Lyla Hay Owen. Her southern charm drips like soft candy, but so does her power and determined intent. Ms. Owen’s brilliant performance cinches this GLASS MENAGERIE as the best ever seen.

The proof of the production’s magic is that you can hear the audience’s sniffles at the close.

The director’s skillful handling of the emotional mood music punctuates the tagline every theatrical company longs to hear: “A GENUINE HIT!”

Don’t miss THE GLASS MENAGERIE at the Marigny Theatre through this weekend. Let’s pray that it will be held over - and over.

Top Rating: 4
My Rating: 4

- Al Shea, Steppin' Out

The Gambit, April 6, 2009

"I am the opposite of a stage magician," Tom Wingfield says in the opening monologue of The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams' first big hit, which recently received a stunning production at Marigny Theatre. "He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant guise of illusion."

Tom (Keith Launey) narrates the play about the caged, stressful life of his family. Some elements of the memory play reach beyond the action. Although best known by his pen name, Williams' real name was Tom. In the play, Tom wants to be a writer but supports the family by working in a warehouse. His only friend, Jim O'Connor (Leon Contavesprie), calls him Shakespeare because of his secretive writing.

Tom's father is long gone, and his mother, Amanda Wingfield (Lyla Hay Owen), is the driving force of the play. She conjures an illusory past inhabited by gallant Southern swains she calls "gentlemen callers." She recounts a single day's 17 suitors as a triumph of her youth. She could have married into money and social prominence but, she tells her children, "I settled for your father."

Tom's sister Laura (Liz Mills) walks with a limp. Amanda's ebullient ego and embellished past increase Laura's self-consciousness. Her ornamental glass animals parallel her own fragile beauty and give the play its central symbol.

Clouds gather over this already unhappy world when we learn Laura has secretly dropped out of business college. Amanda demands that Tom bring a coworker home to supper. Somehow, she will get a gentleman caller for Laura.

Williams took a radical gamble by shifting the focus of the play to an encounter between Laura and Jim (Leon Contavesprie), a man on whom she once had a distant crush. Jim, however, is not an eligible bachelor. Contavesprie and Mills filled the doomed reunion of these two decent young people with wrenching poignancy. Owen brought the difficult and eccentric Amanda to life. Glenn Meche directed the production with a sure hand. Here's hoping he brings it back with the same cast, so more theatergoers can fall under its spell.

- Dalt Wonk

The Glass Menagerie

“There’s such a high price for negligence in this world.” (T. Williams, Glass Menagerie, Amanda)

Recently To Do Productions presented a very splendid interpretation of T. Williams’ lyrical and lovely play The Glass Menagerie at Theatre Marigny. Glenn Meche directed a very moving production with an all star cast, including one of our own top talents, Lyla Hay Owen, in the starring role of the neurasthenic and opportunistically self-deluded mother, Amanda Wingfield. Ms. Owen created a completely unique and earth bound Amanda very different from the ones I have seen on stage several times in other productions. Instead of a totally deluded T. Williams’ heroine, all flighty and fluffy in filmy flowered dresses, Ms. Owen took the character with both hands like a dying azalea bush, cut and slashed her weaker parts away and planted her with deep demanding roots in the richly Indecent-Proposals-imagined soil of her own mind and determination... she changed her from a spindly little bush with one anxious azalea blossom past its prime into an iron camellia growing from an evergreen plant strongly rooted in her hopes and dreams. Ms. Owen was a refreshing and more realistically realized Amanda, a mother who was determined to get her fragile daughter a husband. It was a bravura display of acting keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Brava, Lyla Hay Owen who was brave enough to change Amanda from a shrinking violet into an iron camellia and do it without sacrificing feminine grace and charm.

And bravissimo to the rest of this all star cast: Keith Launey who seems to have a natural instinct for the art of acting and who did a heart-breaking interpretation of the son, Tom Wingfield; and ditto for the beautiful Liz Mills who was an outstanding Laura Wingfield. Leon Contravesprie made for a handsome, hearty but sensitive gentleman caller, Jim O’Conner. Glenn Meche both directed and did the workable sets. This production was stunningly beautiful. There was not a dry eye in the audience as the play ended. What an elegant kind of cathartic experience this Glass Menagerie turned out to be!

- Patrick Shannon, Ambush Magazine, April 14, 2008

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