Ross Valley Players have opened their 2023-24 season with the classic Tennessee Williams play, The Glass Menagerie. Directed by David Abrams, it is actually a re-staging of their pandemic-interrupted 2020 production. The show runs in Ross through Oct. 14.
Set in 1937 St. Louis, restless young man Tom Wingfield (David Abrams) is trapped in a small apartment and dead-end job, burdened with the financial care of his shy spinster sister, Laura (Tina Traboulsi), and his histrionic mother, Amanda (Tamar Cohn). Enter gentleman caller Jim O’Connor (Jesse Lumb), who brings tensions to a boil and forces the family apart.
Williams is a titan of theater who has fully earned his place in the lexicon of American literary genius. Menagerie, his first big hit, is described as a “memory play,” and Abrams and his team have applied innovative concepts to the world of the play.
A sheer, seemingly reality-bending curtain on the set designed by Tom O’Brien, a lighting design by Michele Samuels that echoes the underlying thunderstorm brewing in the household, and the special effects by Richard Squeri are all callbacks to classic stage magic done in an innovative way.
The most intriguing part of the production is Traboulsi’s Laura. Instead of focusing on a physical deformity, Laura is stuck in a (frighteningly real) world where neurodivergence leads to institutionalization and lobotomy. This neurodivergent Laura is stronger and more relatable than how the character is usually played.
Lumb brings all the golden retriever-like ease, energy and charm to Jim while still conveying the tragedy of the character. The two together are electric.
There is a single major difference between this and the 2020 mounting. For the current production, director Abrams cast himself as Tom. The actor who played the part in 2020 could not return, so Abrams stepped into the notoriously difficult role. With the director onstage, cues and effects that were great concepts were held too long or, conversely, executed too quickly, weakening their impact, to the detriment of the show.
More tragically, his portrayal of Tom started from a heightened position, leaving no place for him to go but to teeter into melodrama. He might have seen this had his attention and energy not been split between acting and directing.
Williams is not realism, but it isn’t melodrama. It’s unfortunate that with such a beautiful script and fresh, innovative concepts at work that this production often veered too close to that edge.
‘The Glass Menagerie’ runs through Oct. 14 at the Barn Theatre in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Thurs.-Sat., 7:30pm; Sun., 2pm. $20–$35. 415.456.9555. rossvalleyplayers.com.