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A Classy 'Menagerie'

Rubicon company does a creditable job with Williams' classic play.

March 08, 2001|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura's Rubicon Theatre Company seems drawn to Southern Gothic drama: Past productions include "The Little Foxes" and "The Rainmaker" (OK, that's Midwestern Gothic), and it's currently presenting "The Glass Menagerie."

Tennessee Williams' most autobiographical full-length play is probably his most accessible, and the quartet of actors under the direction of James O'Neil does well by it. Maybe especially well Sunday afternoon, when the rain combined with the theater's heating system and artificial stage smoke to produce an uncanny atmospheric resemblance to steamy St. Louis.

Imagine if you will a family in which Tennessee Williams was the most normal member--although he may have been bending the facts through the veil of memory, as he once admitted, to arrive at a greater truth.

Tom Wingfield is working at a warehouse while aspiring to something greater--perhaps to becoming a writer. In the meantime, he's living at home with his mother, Amanda, and sister, Laura. Amanda is hiding behind her earlier life growing up as the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner (she married a ne'er-do-well who soon left) and evidently attempts to make a living as (in the early '30s!) a telemarketer.

Laura, who has never physically or emotionally recovered from a childhood illness, is kindly described by Tom as "unobtrusive." Amanda implores Tom to bring home from work a young man--any young man--who can court Laura the way Amanda remembers being courted by countless "gentleman callers" in her own youth. Tom resists.

Williams has painted some colorful characters here, and it's to the credit of the cast and director O'Neil that none of them is exaggerated beyond credibility.

Susan Clark, who plays Amanda, is the best-known member of the strong cast. Many may recognize her as the "mother" of Emmanuel Lewis in the long-running TV series "Webster." But she also has extensive theatrical credits (not to mention a best-actress Emmy for her portrayal of Olympic gold medalist Babe Didrickson Zaharias).

That wide-ranging background explains her ability to inhabit the character of Amanda, the wilting magnolia, as well as her commendable willingness to share the stage with the other actors and not overwhelm them. Precious Chong tries her best (with moderate success) to look plain as the tormented and well-played Laura, and Joseph Fuqua--who has been featured in three earlier Rubicon productions--commands the stage as young Tom.

Jim O'Connor, who accepts Tom's invitation to dinner, is the play's least realized character. He's written that way, although Tom Astor works hard to give him dimension.

Russell Pyle's scenic and lighting design contribute greatly to the overall atmosphere; the Laurel, a renovated church, is a challenging space to work in, no matter how inviting it is for the audience. Likewise, Craig Bauber's sound complements the enormously effective musical score by Ross Care.

Well-acted all around and with themes that practically anyone should be able to relate to, "The Glass Menagerie" is often required reading in high school English and theater classes. It's also one of Williams' most frequently produced plays. This is an opportunity to see it done right, and not a bad night out as a family enterprise, although the preteens should probably be left at home.

DETAILS

"The Glass Menagerie" continues through March 25 at the Laurel Theatre, 1006 E. Main St. in Ventura. Performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $20-$35. For reservations (highly recommended) or further information, call 667-2900.

*

The Rubicon has just announced that it's bringing back last October's well-received production of "The Rainmaker," cast (including Stephanie Zimbalist, Carlos Sanz, John Bennett Perry and Joseph Fuqua) and director (Jenny Sullivan) intact, from Aug. 9 through Sept. 9.

And the Cabrillo Music Theatre, which has two musicals ("The Secret Garden" and "The Sound of Music") remaining in its current season, has just announced its 2001-2002 season: "Will Rogers Follies" in October-November, followed by "Camelot" and "Peter Pan."

Todd Everett can be reached at teverett@concentric.net

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