Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” is a memory play, and the new “Glass: Shattered” — a shaky and self-conscious deconstruction of that bona-fide American classic — is a memory play of a memory play.
The script is badly executed, but the notion is cool – taking all four characters in “The Glass Menagerie” and re-imagining them so that the narrator, who remains the play’s son, can re-examine what went on.
The character, Tom, uses his memory to dive into the re-telling of “The Glass Menagerie” just as he does as the narrator of the original play. Now, though, his memories are not formed by the young Tom who wants to move out of the stifling apartment where his overbearing, delusionary mother beats down his spirit and his limping older sister is doomed to a life of nothingness. This is a Tom years after his escape – and wow, let’s just say that his escape did not provide liberation. He’s haunted by having walked out on his family at the end of Williams’ play, just as his dad had bailed out on them.
“Glass: Shattered” is the concept of Michael Durkin, who heads Renegade stage company, which has been performing in Center City for a few years. Renegade is using four actors who’ve established themselves on stages among the city’s small companies: Eric Scotolati in the lead as Tom; Megan Slater as his sister, Laura; Amanda Grove as their mother, Amanda; and Griffin Stanton-Ameisen as Jim, the gentleman caller who had come to visit the family at Tom’s invitation.
They are excellent in their roles, which call for them to play the characters Williams designed and the characters they have become. In this version, Tom’s taken video of his family since he was young, and he’s invited us to see snippets of it. (The video and graphics work by Daniel Kontz is impressive and, strangely, the pieces of Williams’ play in these purposely grainy tapes seem eerily real. They also show us that Tennessee Williams’ literary pizazz far surpasses anything in this play.) Tom also plays video of a park picnic when he was younger, and plays it over and over – and over – to make a point never fully apparent.
Eventually, the real actors re-enact the scenes we’ve seen them act on video – but with twists. Tom becomes their film director, spouting poetry from time to time, because in the original play he wanted to be a poet. He orders his mother, sister and friend Jim to re-do key moments from the original script, molding the content to the way he’d like to remember it, or really wants to see it, or wishes it could have been. If you don’t know “The Glass Menagerie” all of this will sound like a play in a foreign language. If you do, “Glass: Shattered” will come off as curious but pointless.
I kept wondering during “Glass: Shattered” whether Tennessee Williams, had he seen the play, would hit the bottle and become morose but from all accounts, he would have hit the bottle and become morose without seeing the play. He might have questioned how his three-dimensional play boiled down to a one-dimensional issue: mother-son conflict, which is a big part of the original but still, just a part. Halfway into this 80-minute play, I began to feel like an unwilling surrogate for Tom’s psychoanalyst. Truth to tell, Tom is a much more interesting person in “The Glass Menagerie,” when we discern his motivations as his story plays out than he is in “Glass: Shattered,” when he expounds (constantly) on his motivations, now warped in his memory.
Still, the script has some good moments — it’s clear that Durkin put a lot of thought into both this play and the original. What “Glass: Shattered” needs, though, is a sense of where to begin and where to end and what to edit out. The first 10 minutes or so are dreadful, as Tom hems and haws, and who cares? Only after that, his re-examination of what happens in Williams’ play begins.
Durkin does not know when to stop. “Glass: Shattered” has a compelling scene in which Tom and his videocam become one, and it seemed a perfect ending. But Durkin goes on for a few minutes, and the play’s characters go behind a scrim and leave Tom in his restless solitude. And that seemed a perfect ending. But Durkin goes on, and the play becomes more repetitive and finally ends, with a weak payoff. Given that the payoff of “The Glass Menagerie” is so memorable, with such beautiful poetry, a deconstruction worth its while should at best match it and at very the least, hold our interest.
“Glass: Shattered,” produced by the Renegade Company, runs through June 22 at the Church of the Crucifixion, 620 S. Eighth St., near Bainbridge. www.therenegadecompany.org.