Photo: Fred Bledsoe Photography
For those keeping count, there have been upward of 30 theaters opening shows this month, an overwhelming roster that ranges from the patently absurd (Black Fox Theatre's Brothers Beckett) to the sonically sublime (Oak Park Festival Theatre's Amadeus). Topping the list is Mary Arrchie's The Glass Menagerie, running through July 28 at Theater Wit.
Having seen Tennessee Williams' memory play at least six times over the past decade or so, I was somewhat petulantly wondering why the usually innovative, certifiably edgy artists of Mary-Arrchie felt it necessary to mount such a well-worn warhorse. Then the lights came up on Hans Fleischmann. The director and star of the piece was in tatters, a grimy, bedraggled specter with a thousand-yard-stare that laser-beamed out from all those filthy rags with a wholly unnerving intensity. As Tom, the narrator who leads the audience through Williams' devastating family drama of crippled dreams and inner demons, Fleischmann is quite simply stunning.
Usually Tom is played as a wandering poet, a refugee who has carved out a precarious but sustainable livelihood far from the beloved sister and domineering mother he abandoned. In Fleischmann's portrayal, Tom is in freefall, someone who has plunged through the cracks into an abyss of mental illness and perpetual homelessness. He's a corporeal ghost sentenced to living purgatory.
As Tom's emotionally wounded sister Laura, Joanne Dubach radiates the gentle, yearning ache of a doomed innocent. And as Tom and Laura's mother Amanda, Maggie Cain makes you see the desperation that emerges from relentless and fading beauty.
Finally, there's Grant Sabin's evocative set, dressed with thousands of luminous glass objects and Anna Henson's projection design, dominated by the overarching gaze of Tom and Laura's long-absent father. With Daniel Knox’s fragile, ethereal original score, The Glass Menagerie is also surround-sound experience. Knox's delicate audio is at once subtle and immersive, a pitch-perfect evocation of lost souls reaching for better, brighter lives that they'll never grasp.
In The Glass Menagerie, all of the elements—lights, sound, set costumes, performances and direction—merge into an unforgettable whole. If you can only make it to one show this month, this is the one.
Through July 28 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., theaterwit.org; $37