Its a shame that Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie has become such a cliche in the public mind. Properly done, its a powerful and poignant display of minimalism by one of Americas greatest writers in any genre, and the Tybee Theatre Cafe players do a magnificent job of breathing fresh life into the old chestnut in their current run through Dec. 4.
Though set in St. Louis, Mo., Menagerie clearly deals with the twilight of the South in a restless 1930s America poised between depression and world war. These death throes are epitomized by the luckless and insular Wingfield family: matriarch Amanda (Lorrie Scoggins Rumpel), son Tom (Patrick J. Saxon) and daughter Laura (Carmella Christensen).
Lets get straight to the meat of this review: While this cast is strong all around, I cannot say enough about the warm, understated and very human performances by Scoggins Rumpel and Christensen as mother and daughter Wingfield.
Scoggins Rumpels Amanda is a marvel of restraint -- and I dont use that word in the usual backhandedly complimentary way of the theatre critic. In contrast to the usual caterwauling and overacting you find in most amateur (and many professional) portrayals of this character, she plays down Amandas histrionics in favor of a more subtle, naturalistic reading that is a refreshing delight.
Christensens Laura is quietly devastating. Its not until half an hour into the first act that it dawns on you that youre seeing an amazingly layered and very believable portrayal of this most sweetly pathetic of literatures wallflowers.
The aspect of Christensens performance I appreciate most is not what she says, but how she listens. This skill is particularly noticeable in the essentially one-sided conversation between Laura and Jim the Gentleman Caller (Matt Perez) in Act Two, a long set-piece which is nearly a play within a play.
Laura has little to say in this scene, in which Jim, with the casual cruelty of a former class president, simultaneously builds her up only to tear her back down. But by the end, though its Perezs character that has done most of the talking, its Christensens presence that has given us a real window into her characters soul -- just as Tennessee Williams no doubt intended.
Both Saxon and Perez are strong actors with defined stage presence. To be honest, Saxon is almost too strong. His anger is real and believable, his cockiness entertaining and bitingly funny; but the one thing missing in his otherwise well-rounded performance is the bitter, wounded male pride that embodies the sadly emasculated Tom.
Amanda Dreschers set is wonderful, rising to the aesthetic and logistical challenges of staging a dinner theatre production. Director Fritz Rumpels decision to stage the play in the round was no doubt also influenced by the layout of the room, but it works to great advantage, heightening the intimacy of this already painfully intimate little play.
Indeed, much of the dialogue takes place on a sofa centerstage with its back squarely facing the bulk of the audience. Youd think this would alienate playgoers, but the effect is the opposite. In real life we observe a lot of things from behind or from the side, and heres no different. (Just in case you think Im nuts, I overheard other playgoers saying the same thing.)
Ah, now you want to know about the food, dont you? Look, were all adults here. If you want fine dining on Tybee Island, I suggest The Hunter House or Georges or Tango.
That being said, the Tybee Theatre Cafe serves a solid dinner, with a soup, salad, entree and dessert course, as well as friendly and attentive service.
Alcoholic beverages are over and above the $40 ticket price. While I was initially disappointed that only beer and wine are offered, I must say that not only is the wine selection outstanding, the beer selection is as well -- a particularly nice surprise in this Bud Light-dominated town.
Bottom line: $40 is quite a bargain for a perfectly serviceable dinner followed by a performance of this high caliber. You have two more weeks to check out this fine performance at the Tybee Theatre Cafe, and I heartily recommend doing so.
The Tybee Theatre Cafe performs The Glass Menagerie Nov. 25-27 and Dec. 1-4 above Los Palmas Restaurant at Hwy 80 and Jones Ave. Seating for dinner is between 6:30 and 7:15 p.m., with the show starting around 8 p.m. or so. Call 786-6384 for reservations.
Bio: A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series...A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series.more