By Jim Schutze
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By Lauren Drewes Daniels
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The Incredible and Sad Story of the Candid Erendira and Her Soulless Grandmother runs through May 16. Call (214) 741-1135.
"I always knew this play was deeply sad," says Kitchen Dog Theatre artistic director Dan Day of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. "But after having worked with this production, I'm convinced that the circus motif we're using makes it even sadder."
Circus motif? Yep. Dan Day stars as Tom Wingfield, the ring master in Kitchen Dog's latest production, which daringly places Williams' landmark memory play in a three-ring context. Without changing one word of the text, Kitchen Dog member Tina Parker directs Day, Shelly Tharp as crippled sister Laura, Tharp's real life mother, Mary Tharp, as demented Southern Ms. Manners Amanda, and Bill Lengfelder as The Gentleman Caller in a tragicomic reimagining of a beloved classic--replete with clown makeup, knife-throwing, acrobatics, and other circus flourishes.
"Tennessee Williams once wrote that he wanted to take the kitchen sink out of the theater with The Glass Menagerie and make it a dream play," Day says. "But most productions have been very naturalistic. When we talked about the new elements Tina wanted to add, we decided that the circus is very apt. There's something very poignant, even pathetic about circus performers, especially clowns. They're trapped in their roles as performers. We also added some freak-show overtones."
Although some might consider it a wild stretch to stage one of the American theater's most famously tortured families underneath the Big Top, the more you discuss it with Day and director Tina Parker, the more this interpretation begins to make "alarming sense," as Parker puts it.
"I directed this show in a student class at SMU seven years ago," Parker says. "And that's when the floodgates opened up about the whole circus thing. The production notes describe Laura's theme music as circus music. Tom is both a ringmaster and an escape artist of his family; Laura and Amanda are both sad clowns, and they're part of the freak riff, too. They get worse when The Gentleman Caller arrives, who has to be an acrobat dealing with them. At the time my teachers asked me, 'Can you justify this idea throughout a production?'"
Parker is certainly giving it her best shot with this bold, stylized theatrical variation on a play everyone thought had been pretty much defined. Set construction is under way right now to build the various sideshows that The Glass Menagerie has become while staying in the Kitchen Dog house at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary. Dan Day describes the show as Tina's "passionate vision."
"Kitchen Dog shows are usually collaborative efforts," Day says. "And we actors did have a say in this one. But ultimately, this one is Tina's. We just said, 'We'll trust you, babe, and see what happens on opening night.'"
The Glass Menagerie opens Saturday, May 2 and runs through June 7. Call (214) 953-1055.
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