Fond & fierce dreams in poignant 73H Productions’/Howland Company’s modern-day reflection on The Glass Menagerie

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Hannah Spear in The Glass Menagerie – photos by Yannick Anton

73H Productions, with the support of The Howland Company, opened its production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, directed by Philip McKee, in the Theatre Centre Incubator space last night.

Set in St. Louis, Amanda Wingfield (Tracey Hoyt) lives in a cramped apartment with her two young adult children Tom (James Graham) and Laura (Hannah Spear). Mr. Wingfield, famous and infamous for his charm and grin, is long gone – not dead, but absent; a fifth character in this story, present only in a grinning photograph. This is a memory play, narrated by Tom and featuring milestone moments in the family’s history. Painfully shy and incapacitated with fear, Laura has dropped out of school; preferring to live in a world of old music and glass animals. Concerned for her daughter’s future, Amanda, a displaced member of privileged, old southern society, hatches a plan to have Tom invite one of his warehouse co-workers (Jim, the Gentleman Caller, played by Samer Salem) over for dinner in the hopes of sparking a romance and eventual marriage for Laura. Meanwhile, Tom is working on a scheme of his own, with plans to break free from a life of ennui and movie house escape, and into a journey of real adventure.

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James Graham with Hannah Spear (l) & Tracey Hoyt (r)

Lovely work from the cast in this intimate portrait of desperate dreaming family life. Graham brings a melancholy tinged with a wistful, and at times dark, sense of whimsy to his performance as Tom. A philosophical introvert, Tom’s a ticking time bomb of frustration; burdened with being the family breadwinner, he’s torn between taking care of his mother and sister, and making a life he can call his own. Hoyt’s Amanda is a complex combination of old southern gentility and ruthless realism. The life and world Amanda’s come to live in are both foreign and a step down for her socially speaking; disillusioned and desperate for a secure future, Amanda is a well-meaning nag with permanent worry lines on her forehead. And we see how rooted she is in the past as she slips into girlish coquetry when Jim arrives.

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Tracey Hoyt & Samer Salem

Spear brings a lovely sense of fragility and solitude to Laura; a painfully shy and delicate soul who dares to dream. A creative and good-humoured introvert with low self-esteem, Laura is both genuine and awkward – and her failings are largely in her mind. Salem gives Jim a high-energy, charismatic and athletic spark. As Laura’s polar opposite, Jim’s high self-esteem – perhaps a bit too high – is tempered by a charm and sincerity; a man who appears to have peaked in high school, he is “disappointed but not discouraged,” and spends his time after work on self-improvement courses.

All are disappointed but not discouraged – to some degree, at least – but, as Amanda points out, despite one’s best efforts “Things have a way of turning out so badly.”

Keeping the script intact, but setting the scene in modern-day America – as well as offering a new take on the menagerie – this production of the Williams classic finds the past aptly mirrored in the present; bringing this story of ennui, economic struggle and dreams of a better life into current focus. When Laura plays her father’s old records, it’s on a CD player; and, beyond a mere collection of acquired knickknacks, the menagerie is her own creation. Like the mirror ball at the Paradise Dance Hall across the alley, the animals are covered in pieces of mirrored glass – and those who look upon Laura’s creations are reflected in them.

Staged in the round in the more intimate Incubator space at the Theatre Centre, the audience really gets a fly-on-the-wall perspective of this family drama. Shouts to set/costume designer Adriana Bogaard, and lighting designer Jareth Li for their work in creating this world.

Fond and fierce dreams in 73H Productions’/The Howland Company’s poignant modern-day reflection on The Glass Menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie continues at the Theatre Centre Incubator until September 11. You can get advance tix online; strongly recommended, as it’s an intimate space and opening was sold out.

In the meantime, check out the trailer, created by Daniel Maslany:

 

 

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Otherworldly, funny, poetic rock & roll fairytale – Trout Stanley

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Poster design by Meags Fitzgerald

Last night, it was out to the Storefront Theatre for Severely Jazzed Productions’ Trout Stanley, written by Claudia Dey, directed by Daniel Pagett.

With the help of the Storyteller (Dan Jeannotte), we learn that Ducharme twins Grace (Tess Degenstein) and Sugar (Hannah Spear) were orphaned as young adults and live an isolated life on the outskirts of a mining town. Sugar has been unable to leave the house since their parents died and, having built a world of their own, the two have created an unusual dynamic, with Grace in the traditional husband role and working at the town dump and Sugar being the stay-at-home ‘wife.’ Their daily domestic routine is turned upside down and sideways when Trout Stanley (Colin Munch) arrives on their birthday, lost and in search of closure as he travels to see where his parents died. Everyone has a secret.
The language of the piece is party poetry, part soap opera, part bedtime story – all with an undercurrent of rock and roll. The world is both harsh and beautiful – and in some cases, it all depends on how you look at it.

Pagett has an excellent cast for this trip. Spear brings an adorable and poignant combination of wide-eyed and haunted, yet optimistic and day dreamy child to the fragile, introverted Sugar; shy and reserved, and so full of longing for she doesn’t even know what, but overshadowed by Grace’s reputation as ‘the pretty one.’ Degenstein’s Grace is a ballsy extroverted rockabilly pin-up girl – and knows it – but beneath the vain exterior is a good, strong heart willing to go to any lengths to protect her sister. Munch gives Trout an edgy lost boy quality, tempered with a sharp wit, poetic soul and an aura of mystery. Like the sisters, Trout has suffered family tragedy and, while he is very likeable and claims to be unable to lie, he is hiding something. As the Storyteller, Jeannotte is a wry-witted, charismatic narrator, ushering – even directing – the scenes and joining in at times on the dialogue. He tells us the story of Trout Stanley with a twinkle in his eye, but with a commitment to the action that goes beyond a generic storyteller.

There’s some highly entertaining and effective staging afoot. Highlights include the sisters’ and Trout’s dance break to Heart’s “Magic Man” near the top of the show is both impressive and funny, especially Trout’s perfect execution of the classic David Caruso CSI Miami sunglasses flourish. The playful, cartoon-like quality of Trout’s late night visit to the twins’ house, sneaking in under cover of darkness to steal food and drink. During intermission, the Storyteller remains seated at his desk, wearing a cone-shaped party hat and flanked by a red balloon while he has a snack and reads a paperback. And who wouldn’t want to have a rock guitar exclamation every time you entered a room, just like Grace.

With shouts to the design team: Hanna Puley (set/costumes), Melissa Joakim (lighting) and Daniel Maslany (sound). The white set and props – particularly the shelves of Sugar’s figurine creations – and the slender birch trees on either side, coupled with lighting effects, give the space an ethereal, almost weightless quality. The wooden desk and chair, which is the Storyteller’s space, is like a link from our world to the world of the twins – and the Storyteller is our guide. The poppy, soft techno pre-show soundtrack, followed by rock riffs and remixed Heart tracks during the course of the action serve as sonic echoes of this world’s beauty and brutality.

Trout Stanley is an otherworldly, funny, poetic and moving rock and roll fairytale featuring a stand-out cast. Get yourselves out to see this.

Trout Stanley continues at the Storefront Theatre until June 6; you can get advance tix online here.

You can follow Severely Jazzed on Facebook and Twitter. In the meantime, check out the show trailer: