More than 70 years after Tennessee Williams careened onto the American theater scene with the unexpected success of “The Glass Menagerie,” the titanic playwright and his cast of brooding, self-styled characters still have tricks in their pockets and things up their sleeves.
And so, too, does the Cherry Creek Theatre Company.
The first line of Williams’ so-called “dream play” regarding the slithery dealings and warped perceptions of the production’s protagonist-narrator — and where in his wardrobe he squirrels them — is an apt descriptor for CCTC’s cleverly staged incarnation of the 1944 piece de resistance, which debuted on the unorthodox stage within the Shaver Ramsey oriental rug shop March 4. Nestled among blocks of snazzy shops and eateries, the upscale carpet boutique on East Third Avenue in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood serves as a suitable, albeit unexpected, backdrop for Williams’ quasi-autobiographical showpiece.
The Cherry Creek production, directed by metro theater swami Pat Payne, is a cerebral, sophisticated take on Williams’ breakout work, appropriately underscored with the anguished mysticism the famed dramatist was so adept at curating.
Based on a Williams short story entitled “Portrait of a Girl in Glass,” “Menagerie” dissects the dysfunctionality of the Wingfield clan, which consists of Tom (James O’Hagan Murphy), a poet drowning in self-inflicted mediocrity who’s forced to provide for his mother and sister by working for $65 a day in a shoe factory; Laura (Rachel Bouchard), a disabled shut-in who is socially paralyzed by her own anxiety; and Amanda (Anne Oberbroeckling), the hen-like southern matriarch obsessed with the opulence of a former life. The plot centers on Amanda’s relentless quest to match her daughter with a gentleman caller (Michael Bouchard), despite her child’s cripplingly anti-social tendencies.
Laced with an ongoing skirmish with Tom over his happiness and commitment to the family, the show weaves in and out of different planes of reality and memory in a manner akin to the magical realism spun out by Williams’ Latin American contemporaries.
Cultivating that distorted sense of reality while still managing to systematically sprout knotty characters teeming with complexities is where the Cherry Creek crew scores. Through a smart and subtle soundscape compliments of Payne and sound designer Tom Quinn, the audience is subliminally reminded of each character’s flaws, memories and aspirations. Over the course of two adequately paced acts, loud, poppy swing smoothly affirms Amanda’s memory of her affluent upbringing in Blue Mountain; overly tragic strings fuel Tom’s impatience; and eerie chimes come up and under when Laura retreats to her collection of glass trinkets. The purposefully repetitive audio douses the action with a hazy opacity that allows the cast to flourish without requiring any sort of topsy turvy embellishment. It works, and it works well.
And it’s a phenomenal team of players that sets the production on a path toward exceptional. Spearheaded by Oberbroeckling as the outspoken, high-strung sovereign of the Wingfield tribe, the four-person troupe boldly embraces Williams’ hallmark: fascinating personalities trump all else. Murphy unleashes several tirades stewing with boorish discontent and the Bouchards’ extended titillation more than satisfies — they are offstage husband and wife, after all. Michael Bouchard, in particular, effects a barometric uptick late in the show with his sudden volley of caffeinated, yet ultimately reptilian zip. But it’s Oberbroeckling’s relentless onslaught of well-intended and well-effected neuroses that propels the production. From lamenting her lack of time to paper the walls before the gentleman caller’s arrival to her staunch opposition to her child becoming a “barely tolerated spinster,” Oberbroeckling ferociously encapsulates the demanding archetype with pinches of wit and wisdom. Throughout last Saturday’s performance there were constant mutterings of “that’s me,” and “just like you” in between non-verbal jabs of the rib cage among couples of all ages.
Though more than a few steps removed from Aurora, CCTC’s “Menagerie” paints a well-spun, appropriately tilted portrait of a fractured, yet somehow loving family unit. At times blurred by memory-filled smokescreens and at times painfully relatable, the production is more than worth the inevitable, painstaking hunt for parking in the heart of Denver’s haut monde.
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“The Glass Menagerie”
Curtains at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 6:30 p.m. Sundays. 7:30 p.m. showing March 24, at Shaver-Ramsey Showroom, 2414 E. Third Ave., Denver.
Tickets are $35. Call 303-800-6578 or visit cherrycreektheatre.org