Stein Winge's first two shows for the Los Angeles Theatre Center, "Three Sisters" and "Barabbas," were not examples of invisible direction. Winge's LATC staging of "The Glass Menagerie" also has moments where our attention is turned from the business of the play to some business that the director has imposed on the play, as when Tom starts saying Mass with the dandelion wine.
But Winge restrains himself. Newsreels of the Spanish Civil War aren't flashed on the back wall of the Wingfields' apartment, and Tom doesn't come out in one of Amanda's old dresses. For the most part this is a straightforward staging of Tennessee Williams' play, and, as Amanda would say, it passes inspection. Audiences who don't know Williams' characters will get involved with them. Those who do, will be interested to see what these particular actors bring to them.
Joan Hotchkis makes us like Amanda more than we sometimes do. Amanda is never consciously out to ruin her children. But we sometimes sense an unconscious need to get back at them--at Tom for being a man; at Laura for being a burden.
Hotchkis is as feisty and aggrieved an Amanda as we've seen, but she really does wish her kids well--if only they'd shape up! There's no malice here, only honest exasperation.
Nor does she try to vamp poor Laura's one and only Gentleman Caller (Stephen Tobolowsky). She does allow herself to be caught in a very fetching attitude as he arrives, but that's habit. In general, she tries to put the focus on Laura (Ann Hearn). There's even a moment where one suspects that Amanda may have been a little shy herself as a girl, in the Southern Belle manner.
Hotchkis' Amanda shows her true mettle in defeat, not penalizing either the Gentleman Caller or Laura for the wreckage of her plans. Time and circumstances have made this lady a bit of a dingbat, but she's quality.
Hearn's Laura is more stolid than fragile. She is less Amanda's child than is Anthony Geary's Tom. He tries to be deliberate, but he picks up everybody's emotional signals to a painful degree, and it's clear why he has got to get out of that apartment into a more neutral atmosphere.
Where the Gentleman Caller is usually a well-groomed young man who is still dressing for success, Tobolowsky makes him a balding fellow in suspenders, somebody who looks as if he should be selling farm machinery on the road. His bluntness and his good heart are excellent, but Williams' Amanda--a bit of a snob, still--probably wouldn't be that anxious to have him in the family.
On the other hand the situation with Laura may have gone far enough so that Amanda would welcome any suitor. Most of Winge's choices in this play are at least debatable in terms of the story, which is why it's an improvement over "Three Sisters" and "Barabbas."
For instance, one could disagree with Timian Alsaker's fairly spacious setting, which doesn't convey anything of the cramped quality of the Wingfields' apartment. It does, however, say something about how alone each member of the family feels within it--and how how isolated the whole family feels in the city.
Noel Taylor's costumes also raise some questions. Why does Tom, the dreamy poet, show up at supper dressed like a million dollars? Is he trying to put his friend, the Gentleman Caller, in the shade?
But Amanda's drooping, rusted-out party dress is wonderful. Wouldn't it be interesting if she knows perfectly well how drab she looks, and is really trying to turn the gentleman's eyes in another direction? With this Amanda, it's a distinct possibility.
What a pleasure, in watching Winge's work, to discuss the play instead of the concept.
'THE GLASS MENAGERIE' Tennessee Williams' play, at the Los Angeles Theatre Center's Theatre 3. Director Stein Winge. Producer Diane White. Set design Timian Alsaker. Lighting design Stephen Bennett. Costume design Noel Taylor. Sound design Jon Gottlieb. Original music Thomas Pasatieri. Assistant director Jose Luis Valenzuela. Stage manager Joan Toggenburger. With Anthony Geary, Joan Hotchkis, Ann Hearn, Stephen Tobolowsky. Plays Tuesdays-Sundays at 8 p.m. (except Jan. 25 and Feb. 1), with Saturday-Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. (except Feb. 8, 15, 22.) Closes Feb. 28. 514 S. Spring St. (213) 627-5599.