Oh dear, oh dear. Where to begin? The first sign of trouble in the Pasadena Playhouse production of Tennessee Williams’ gossamer memory play, “The Glass Menagerie,” is John Iacovelli’s gorgeous — but totally inappropriate — scenic design of the Wingfield apartment. The too-small quarters of a rundown St. Louis apartment have been usurped by an elegant home with fashionable furnishings and airy, spacious rooms sprawled across the entire stage. The enormous set banishes any sense of oppressiveness building from hot sun, constant belittlement and confined movement in cramped rooms. Intimacy here is impossible. It soon becomes clear that everything in this production is distorted, oversized and utterly misguided.
Director Andrew J. Robinson (The Matrix’s “Waiting for Godot” and South Coast Rep’s “The Beauty Queen of Leenan”) seems to have lost his senses. In a show where the famous fragility of the Williams’ women is even symbolized by the title, Robinson wields a heavy hand, breaking off every sense of delicacy in these characters much the same way that Jim accidentally breaks the horn off Laura’s favorite glass animal, the unicorn. The effect of both actions is to transform something once unique and magical into something ordinary and commonplace.
Any opportunity for comic interpretation — even in the most dramatic of moments — is played for sitcom value. Too many lines are shouted, and virtually all subtlety and nuance have been excised.
Susan Sullivan’s Amanda is no faded Southern belle, desperately clinging to a more genteel past. Her Amanda is born of a heartier stock. Her anger is believable; her flirtatiousness is not. Scenes with Tom (Raphael Sbarge) scarcely touch more complex levels of resentment, frustration, disappointment and fear.
Sbarge’s Tom has none of the poet or dreamer about him, and he fails to show his love and protectiveness of Laura (Rachel Robinson). Worse, no conflict arises from his decision to leave home, which means abandoning his sister as well. Robinson offers only surface indications of Laura’s nervousness. She conveys no sense of fragility, either physically or emotionally. And in a strange candlelight scene with Jim (Tony Crane), her refusal to make eye contact plays as blindness rather than timidity.
J. Kent Inasy’s lighting and Dione H. Lebhar’s costumes are unreliable — sometimes hitting, but often missing, the mark. Other missteps are too numerous to mention, but all have to do with playing hardball in a show that requires a certain amount of tenderness. If you want classic Williams, keep looking. It’s not at the Pasadena Playhouse.