Here’s a tip for aspiring thespians: See all the Glass Menageries you can. Somewhat overshadowed by the notoriety of A Streetcar Named Desire during playwright Tennessee Williams’s lifetime, the Menagerie has come into its own in this century as both his most frequently produced script and perhaps the greatest American play of all time. There’s something so breathtakingly perfect about the formal structure, the exquisite balance between the two acts, that gives it the potential for overwhelming emotional impact.
That said, it helps if you happen to catch a great production, and, inevitably, not all of them are. Which brings us to the excellent Lit Moon Theatre Company version, a revival of which plays at Center Stage Theater November 29-December 2. Don’t go expecting a traditional approach. Director John Blondell has taken Williams at his word when it comes to the label he put on the show, which is a “memory play.” Tom, the male lead, is usually played by an actor in his late twenties or early thirties — the age that the character is in these memories. The Lit Moon version features company member Stan Hoffman in the role, and he’s in his seventies.
While the initial effect may be disconcerting, the decision gathers emotional steam as the evening progresses. According to Blondell, it’s an attempt to “capture the way that memory works” by filtering the play’s events through “the perceptions of different characters at different points in time.” The result does remarkable justice to a true monument of the American canon. See it and bring your theater friends; you may not all agree, but the conversation afterward will go on long into the night.