A COMPELLING CLASSIC GRIPS ITS AUDIENCE IN ARIZONA THEATRE COMPANY'S PRODUCTION OF "THE GLASS MENAGERIE"

photo by Tim Fuller

Tempers rise when (from left) daughter Laura (Michelle Chin), mother Amanda (Lillie Richardson) and son Tom (Aaron Cammack) try to find some peace in their dowdy St. Louis apartment during "The Glass Menagerie"

Tennessee Williams' “The Glass Menagerie” is almost 80 years old, a bona fide stage classic of enduring power. The Arizona Theatre Company's current production, directed by Chanel Bragg, goes for the jugular to capture a time of anxious cultural change in 1930s America.

A cast of four brings tension to every scene as Amanda Wingfield (Lillie Richardson) desperately clings to her remembered youth as a Southern belle, her grown son Tom (Aaron Cammack) tries to protect his frail younger sister Laura (Michelle Chin) from life in general, and Tom's workmate Jim O'Connor (Paul Deo Jr.) bursts in to embrace his own future with enthusiasm.

So we watch, fascinated, as Bragg carefully stacks her conflicted house of cards, balancing each erratic confrontation that's been warped by the unspoken undertow of frustrated desire.

Often described as “a memory play” of remembered emotions that might or might not be exaggerations of what actually did happen, scenic designer Josafath Reynoso has enhanced this shadowy feeling with an abstract design of lines and a fire escape stretched across the stage's backdrop while adding in neon the bawdy word “Paradise” to imply another fantasy world completely out of this family's reach, though it exists as a nightclub of reckless expression right across the street.

“Glass Menagerie” was Williams' Broadway breakthrough in 1945, filled with dialogue that breaths the general fear of the Great Depression era, even as each of these characters has a death grip on hope for something better.

Richardson creates an Amanda of compulsive willfulness but, even so, we can still feel sorry for her.

Chin as the delicate Laura makes us believe in her love for the tiny glass figurines as easily broken as Laura herself.

Cammack portrays stoic Tom as the unwilling man of the house always trying to please his mother and his sister but only making himself more desperate.

Deo's Jim, best known as the gentleman caller, catches a nice sense of a guy trying to make a positive impression on everyone he meets.

Bragg brings them all together, reshuffled and bent, building to the gasp of a wrenching conclusion that will leave it's mark on your heart.

“The Glass Menagerie” runs through Feb. 11 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays- Fridays; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; in the downtown Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.

Tickets are $25-$85. For details, reservations and current COVID protocol, visit atc.org or phone the box office 1-833-ATC-SEAT. Masks are recommended but not required.













































"BABETTE'S FEAST" BECOMES MORE TOUCHING IN THE ROGUE THEATRE'S STAGE ADAPTATION OF ISAK DINESEN'S SHORT STORY

 photo by Tim Fuller

From left.  Martine (Bryn Booth), Babette (Carley Elizabeth Preston) and Philippa (Kate Scally) discuss village life in Berlevaag.

It doesn't matter if you have already seen the 1987 Oscar-winning Danish film “Babette's Feast,” directed by Gabriel Axel. You must see The Rogue Theatre's stage version now running through Jan. 29, directed by Joseph McGrath using the theater adaptation written by Rose Courtney based on the original short story of Isak Dinesen.

If you haven't seen the film version than you really must embrace what The Rogue has prepared without ever turning on a stove to stir up so much as a bowl of turtle soup.

Quite remarkable is how this story – when it is told by actual people on a stage setting mostly made of bare wood, enhanced by the concert grand piano accompaniment of Russell Ronnebaum – grows deeper, more endearing and intimate as we watch how a true artistic spirit comes to stand for truth facing down the artificial values of religious rigidity that insists on making its own demands.

This feast is no longer about the food. Disarmingly simple in the telling, McGrath meticulously builds an atmosphere of tenderness laced with innocence.

Running approximately 90 minutes without intermission, “Babette's Feast” spans several decades, stretching across northern Europe from revolution-racked Paris in the later 1800s to the timeless isolation of Berlevaag, a tiny puritan settlement on a forgotten Norwegian fjord where one's faith is expressed daily by a proud ability to absorb every hardship and inconvenience imaginable.

The cast of nine is divided into two parts. Carley Elizabeth Preston plays Babette. Kate Scally and Bryn Booth are the lovely spinster sisters Philippa and Martine respectively.

Six others take on the roles of various villagers and visitors to this rigid community. They are Shannon Elias, Jim Fry, David Greenwood, Hunter Hnat, Cynthia Meier and Dennis Tamblyn.

While the play itself is a collection of short scenes stitched together with narration to create a sort of photo album tale, two scenes in particular are quite touching.

Tamblyn, a classically trained singer, plays the flamboyant French opera star Achille Papin who seeks some rest in Berlevaag's isolation. He is smitten by Philippa's naturally soaring voice (Scally is also classically trained) and immediately offers to give her singing lessons.

Papin also sees in Philippa the youth he no longer possesses and, during these lessons, becomes drawn into wanting to posses her.

Another early visitor is Lt. Loewenheilm (Hnat) even more captivated by the beauty of Martine. But his career as a military officer and Martine's life in Berlevaag are hopelessly incompatible. He returns to his own ambitions and the next time we see the lieutenant back in the village he has become Gen. Loewenheilm (now played by Greenwood).

The General talks proudly of his military achievements and his loving wife, his travels and such, but when he sees Martine once again he is that smitten lieutenant, his heart melting.

“Babette's Feast” plays Thursdays through Sundays with performances at 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday plus 2 pm matinees Saturday-Sunday in The Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. Off-street parking is available.

Tickets are $42 general admission, $15 students. Ticket packages are available. For details and reservations, 520-551-2053.

For current COVID protocols, visit theroguetheatre.org Masks are encouraged except when drinking or eating.