The Glass Menagerie at Playmakers Theater through March 14
According to Tennessee Williams, “Time is the longest distance between two places.”
When a play is done as superbly as Playmakers Theater’s current production of The Glass Menagerie, however, the distance between “Lights up” and “The curtain falls” feels less like two plus hours than a blink of the eye, a snap-of-the-fingers journey that reveals the tortured humanity of four vivid lives.
Co-Directors Michael Doyle Graves & Anysia Genre give us a beautifully paced and well-staged no-frills version of Williams’ first great play. They have guided their four-member cast to deeply felt, highly intelligent performances that consistently and thrillingly convey the underlying emotions of the lines they speak. The production’s gorgeously modulated flow of words prevents any flatness or sense of “talkiness” from settling in, as can sometimes happen, but, instead, makes virtually every line seem as fresh as though they’re being spoken for the first time.
Graves & Genre’s transitions between scenes could be smoother, but that was easily overlooked and might improve as the run continues.
Arden Allen Dufilho’s Amanda Wingfield clearly loves and cares for her children Tom and Laura, but her pseudo-scientific observations and insistence on bourgeois conventions could drive anyone crazy. Dufilho is the most real Amanda I’ve ever seen, jettisoning all of the typical “Southern belle” flourishes that tend to accrue to her; by simply trusting Williams’ words themselves she comes off as much more believable than other actresses who have “ACTED” the role.
Dufilho’s light touch and unadorned approach allows certain marvelous lines that too often get swallowed up to breathe and get noticed:
Tom has a “temperament like a Metropolitan [Opera] star!”
“Sometimes you can be as eloquent as an oyster,” also to Tom (if a slight deviation from Williams’ text).
A quietly devastating “Who are you?”, again to her son, as she rails against him.
And a touching “There’s so many things in my heart that I cannot describe to you.”
This Amanda can be tough, but is bewildered by her children’s actions, as though they inhabit a different universe than hers. Dufilho mixes righteousness and a pinch of haughtiness along with understandable anger and frustration into Amanda’s psyche. And yet, she lets go of all that when she transports herself back to her younger days and recalls when she entertained “gentleman callers”.
In her flawless performance, Dufilho adds a splendid visual touch in the second act. We’re used to seeing Amanda emerge in an old fancy dress of hers to entertain Laura’s Gentleman Caller. The lagniappe that Dufilho supplies is to not only figuratively let down her hair, but to literally do so in a way–a long single curl to the side–that layers prettiness with an insinuating girlishness that conjures up Amanda’s youth.
Dufilho is well-matched by Matthew Eli Judd as Tom, the stand-in for Williams himself. A bear of a man, Judd speaks the subtle poetry of Williams’ lines better than any other Tom I’ve seen while balancing, exquisitely, Tom’s anger and the wry humor he uses as a survival tactic. Together, he and Dufilho expertly capture the tenderness and combativeness between this mother and son.
As the “terribly shy” Laura, Jamie Ferguson Lee, though properly gawky, occasionally elicits unintentional laughs with facial expressions more suitable to a Carol Burnett parody of Menagerie. Other than those moments, however, Lee acutely illustrates Laura’s heartbreaking situation.
Unlike most Jim O’Connors (aka “the Gentleman Caller”) who too often look like they could’ve stepped out of a GQ spread, Jason Smith fulfills Tom’s description of him as “ordinary” and just “above average”. Smith, however, crucially evinces the confidence and bonhomie of this former high school golden boy. Together with Lee, he spins the delicate tapestry of the famed second act scene in which Laura finds a few minutes of happiness.
Aaron Genre’s simple set well-defines the Wingfields’ genteel shabbiness. Amelia Trosclair’s lighting, however, could be sharper.
Curiously, something that bothers me in most Menageries, I was able to overlook here, namely the absence of any acknowledgment of Tom’s homosexuality; after all, not only does he share Williams’ initials, but as Amanda intuits, he’s not “going to the movies” when he barrels out the door at nearly midnight. I guess when everything works as magically as it does in Covington, who needs realism?
The Glass Menagerie continues at Playmakers Theater (19106 Playmakers Rd., Covington) Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 2pm through March 7. For more information and tickets go to https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/
Santino Fontana/The Seth Concert Series through March 21
John Battagliese. Remember that name.
“Who? And why?” you might ask. I’m happy you did.
Battagliese was a recent winner of The Seth Sing-Off Contest, a weekly feature of The Seth Concert Series, for which young performers are invited to submit a TikTok video of themselves singing a snippet of a song associated with that week’s guest star. Host/Musical Director Seth Rudetsky then selects one of the up-to-100 entries and showcases it as part of the episode. Since the contest started some months ago, the talent that’s been exposed has been consistently “amazing” (a favorite adjective of Rudetsky); it wouldn’t surprise me if one of these winners goes on to snag a Tony of their own some day.
I’ve been wanting to mention the Contest, and salute Rudetsky and producer Mark Cortale’s support of these budding talents, but, up till now, always seemed to run out of space for it. The gasp that Battagliese elicited from me when he appeared on screen determined that, this week, I’d lead with the contest. To give you some idea of why I gasped, Battagliese’s classically handsome looks make Timothée Chalamet appear merely average.
More importantly, performing Ten Minutes Ago, a nod to headliner Santino Fontana’s Broadway run as the Prince in 2013’s Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Battagliese displayed a great voice and true acting chops. Fontana graciously noted this (as has every other star of their own contest winner), adding, in a reference to the wig he used in the show, “He looks like what I wanted to look like.”
So when Battagliese, who’s already involved with the musical version of Bridgerton on TikTok, runs up some day to collect his Tony Award, remember that you heard his name here first.
As for Fontana, his was possibly the most revealing and personal show of The Seth Concert Series so far as he spoke candidly, if haltingly, of an accident during previews for the Broadway revival of A View From the Bridge in 2010. During a fight scene he hit his head on a table which caused him to have a contusion; for a while, he feared he would lose his memory and his ability to learn lines. While eventually he made a full recovery, Fontana clearly did not enjoy reliving this difficult time for him; he certainly is an inspiration, though, for anyone who might have to deal with a similar such injury.
Menschy, witty and very engaging, Fontana offered a gorgeous They Were You from The Fantasticks, his first job in New York; an introspective Joey, Joey, Joey from The Most Happy Fella; the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein of Cinderella’s Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful? beautifully done; and On the Town’s Lucky to Be Me, effortlessly hitting its soaring high notes, a nod to Rudetsky whom he cheekily called a “high note whore”.
As enjoyable and interesting as the first part of the concert was, which included Fontana talking about his approach to acting, the second half gave us some of the series most memorable moments–
–Fontana as Matt and Rudetsky as Luisa gleefully singing The Fantasticks’ Metaphor with Fontana exuberantly tossing the sheet music in the air as he was done with each page.
–The funny Making Love Alone, the perfect song for these COVID times, which Bernadette Peters, his co-star in the recent Hello Dolly! revival, introduced him to.
—West Side Story’s I Feel Pretty, with some cutely changed lyrics, which he (successfully) used to audition for the movie Frozen.
–And, best of all, Frozen’s Love Is an Open Door which Fontana performed as a duet between Prince Hans, his character in the film, and Dorothy Michaels, his alter ego in the musical Tootsie for which he won a well-deserved Tony Award. Smoothly switching between the two characters’ voices and mannerisms, Fontana offered as fizzy a moment of musical comedy madness as could be wished for.
My only complaint about the concert? That there were no songs from David Yazbek’s award-winning score for Tootsie. Let’s hope there’ll be a Santino Fontana, Part II.
Till then, up next on March 7 is Eva Noblezada who’s been nominated twice for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for Hadestown and the revival of Miss Saigon. She’ll be followed by Emily Skinner, a Tony nominee for Side Show, on March 14, and the inimitable Jackie Hoffman, recently seen in the Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof as Yente, on March 21. Oy!