Friday 24 May 2019

The Glass Menagerie: Uncertain production of an unbreakable American classic

The Glass Menagerie,

Gate Theatre, Dublin  Until June 1

Magical encounter: Zara Devlin and Frank Blake in The Glass Menagerie at the Gate Theatre. Photo by Ste Murray
Magical encounter: Zara Devlin and Frank Blake in The Glass Menagerie at the Gate Theatre. Photo by Ste Murray

Katy Hayes

Amanda Wingfield is a faded southern belle; in her prime she had her pick of men. The husband she chose was a disaster and deserter. Lone parenting in poverty, her children are now finished high school.

Tom is an aspiring writer but has a dull warehouse job. His sister Laura has a limp, is chronically shy, and cannot manage the simplest of social tasks. She devotes her energy to a collection of miniature animals, her glass menagerie.

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Amanda exhorts Tom to bring home friends from work to introduce Laura to some gentlemen callers. He produces Jim O'Connor, a boy whom Laura had a crush on in high school.

Director and designer Tom Cairns gives us an off-kilter production, where the inherent expressionism in the text is brought to the fore, with a destabilising effect. The portrait of the father that sometimes disappears into the wall is a technical whizz, but also a distraction. The dining room is sectioned in a gauzed-off cube that rotates to accommodate sight lines; if the idea is to create the distance of memory, it is a very fussy method to employ. Several inspired visual ideas are not whipped into a smooth whole.

Marty Rea occasionally pushes his performance of Tom up a couple of notches too high, not trusting the text, but pumping it. The play is narrated by Tom from some time in the future, but this memory aspect doesn't coherently affect his performance. Samantha Bond's Amanda is swish and accomplished but lacks vulnerability. She is too much steel, not enough magnolia.

The two younger actors fare much better; Frank Blake as Jim O'Connor personifies the go-getting American male of the 1930s, with his upwardly mobile aspirations and decent heart. Zara Devlin catches the deep layers of complexity in Laura, with an oddball self-possession. Their scene in Act 2 is perfectly done; the show is worth seeing for this magical encounter.

Sinéad Diskin's sound design creates several good moments, like the drifting-in sounds of the nearby nightclub, but is less effective when harnessed to melodrama. Paul Keogan's lighting plot is full of intrigue; his conjuring of a spherical ceiling lamp into both a moon and a nightclub is a treat.

Tennessee Williams' breakthrough play of 1944 has been hugely influential; its fingerprints are all over the development of modern drama. There are problems with this production but the writing is essentially unsinkable. Laura and her glass animals may be fragile, but this brilliant play certainly isn't.

 

Vivid picture of interned IRA in 1940s

Tintown

The Factory, Sligo Until tonight

There is little popular knowledge about the existence of the IRA in the decades following the Civil War and before the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Writer-performer Bob Kelly fills some of that gap with the story of a Dubliner, Barney, interned in the Curragh military camp during World War II, along with hundreds of IRA sympathisers.

Many were veterans of the War of Independence, some were just socialists. They could leave at any time if they agreed to sign a pledge of allegiance to the Irish state. To them this was capitulation - "if you sign, you'll be half a man, living half a life, in half a country".

The script is both elegant and clever. It is informed by interviews with internees and presents a vivid picture of the struggle between the nationalists and the socialists for the heart of the IRA. Some of the inmates sing 'The Internationale' as Gaeilge.

Kelly's beguiling solo performance is detailed and authentic. Director Niall Henry for Blue Raincoat steers this fascinating material with delicacy and nuance. Diarmuid O'Flaherty's set and lighting design are austere and atmospheric, like a prison. This engrossing show takes you to the interior of a Dublin man's brain where this portion of Irish national history finds sharp, dramatic life.

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