Painful With Drawl

Just OK, Tulsa Lovechild sags under TV gimmicks; DTC's Glass Menagerie goes limp with Southern angst

Director Jamie Baker Knapp forces even more comparisons to small-screen fare by using an almost-continuous musical score under the dialogue and between each scene in The Life and Times of Tulsa Lovechild. The composers and recording artists go uncredited in the program, but the sound design by Marco E. Salinas seems to draw primarily from the guitar work of W.G. "Snuffy" Walden, known for the music on thirtysomething, West Wing and Providence. You know his stuff. At the end of a scene, when the lead character says something mildly profound, the screen goes black to the sound of Walden's yuppie flamenco. Plink, plunk, strummmmmm.


I don't remember hearing any music during Dallas Theater Center's production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, still playing at the Kalita Humphreys Theater. But if there were a signature sound for the preview performance I reviewed, it would be a long, slow, raspy wheeze. Hoping for a definitive production of Williams' first great play, what I saw instead were overwrought caricatures of Menagerie's four exquisitely written characters. Faded Southern belle Amanda Wingfield is played as a tall flapping pelican by the robust Beth Dixon. Her immature and fragile daughter Laura, played by Jeanine Serralles, quivers like a demented child pathologically out of touch with reality. Young poet Tom Wingfield turns into a comical drunk as portrayed by loose-limbed Brandon Miller. And as Jim the "gentleman caller," Ashley Smith struts around in the candlelight throwing phony car salesman attitude. Disappointing all around.

Few plays are as nakedly autobiographical as this one, and it was worth seeing it again just to be reminded of the suffocating home Tennessee Williams escaped and later wrote about. Menagerie was his life. Like Tom, the play's narrator, Williams (whose real name was Tom) worked in a shoe warehouse as he dreamed of writing (one of his warehouse co-workers was named Stanley Kowalski). Williams had a mentally disabled sister and an overbearing steel magnolia of a mother. Writing this play must have been an exorcism of personal demons, though Williams doesn't make it clear through Tom Wingfield why he needed to revisit such painful memories. Told in flashback by Tom, who has moved far away from Amanda and Laura, the play leaves its women locked away in the past, in dusty, claustrophobic rooms with a scratchy Victrola and peeling wallpaper. We never know what becomes of them.

Andra Laine as one of many oddball characters in Tulsa Lovechild
Andra Laine as one of many oddball characters in Tulsa Lovechild

Details

continues at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas through November 22. Call 214-828-0094.

There are three distinctly different versions of The Glass Menagerie in print, and DTC director Claudia Zelevansky has returned to an early one that includes the back-wall projections of words and phrases that Williams indicated and that many directors ignore. If Zelevansky was going for an authentic revival of how Williams wanted the show to look and play, she's erred by letting her actors interpret their roles too broadly. They don't find the vulnerability in their characters, and we aren't moved by their desperate loneliness. Laura doesn't even seem to care much about her collection of little glass animals. That's a sure sign something is amiss in this Menagerie.

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