Two productions take on classic plays

Martinez News-Gazette Columnist

In his first hit play, The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams wrote a heartfelt story based on his own life and that of his domineering mother, still living her colorful life as a southern belle, and created a fragile-as-glass sister, reflecting the emotions imprisoned in her painfully shy, somewhat erratic and schizophrenic existence. This deeply engaging and emotionally heartfelt story is being produced by the Role Players Ensemble in the Danville community center. Next in this review, I will share with you how I felt about a much more upbeat, heartwarming and superbly performed comedy, crafted originally by master play-writer Neil Simon, Barefoot in the Park, which awaits your attendance in the Vukasin Theater in the Lesher Center for the Arts, in production by Diablo Actors Ensemble company.

In the play, the Glass menagerie, Tom, the son of Amanda Wingfield, approaches the audience as narrator, briefly explaining his family’s dire financial situation, having been deserted by his father, leaving Tom as the sole low-income supporter. Throughout the play, Tom steps periodically into his role as brother and son during family scenes. Due to family concerns about his unwed and unemployable adult sister, Laura, he invites an unmarried work companion home for dinner, at the bequest of his mother.

In the play epilogue, young Tom, as narrator, appears on the stage and addresses the audience, stating hauntingly, “Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city, before I have found companions. I pass the lighted windows of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes . . . Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!”

Williams’ play is based partly on his own family, and more specifically upon his older sister, Rose Williams. As a child, Rose was extroverted and of good spirits, but as she grew older, she became more withdrawn and antisocial, eventually diagnosed as schizophrenic. Tennessee Williams was a troubled youth who was extremely frustrated with his strict mother. He subsequently abandoned his mother and sister, much as his father had done, while seeking freedom, adventure, and fortune. Sometime later he learned that his mother had requested that a lobotomy be performed on Rose, hopefully as a cure to her mental problems. The operation failed miserably and Rose had to spend the rest of her life under institutional care. Tennessee began to realize the terrible predicament he had left his beloved sister in, which haunted him for the remainder of his life.

Director Chloe Bronzan has gathered together an excellent cast who, for the most part, were up to the opening night performance. There were a few missed lines and while Megan Larsen portrayed sister Laura very well, she was not quite as convincing as I would have preferred as the partially disabled, overly bashful and childlike Laura. I feel certain that Ms. Larsen will come into her own in this very important characterization as the show progresses. Since this a memory play, Williams set design instructions suggested a non-typical set design, suggestive at most. Designer Bo Golden has accomplished this simple set very effectively, very well.

The Glass Menagerie continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM; Sundays at 2 PM now through Sunday, September 15 in the Village Theater located at 420 Front St., in Danville. Tickets range in price between an incredibly reasonable $20 to $35 each and are available at the theater box office at the front of the theater or you may call (925) 314-3400 for tickets and additional information.

Austin Pierce and Samantha Fryer
Paul (Austin Pierce) and Cory (Samantha Fryer), the main characters in the “Barefoot in the Park”

The next play, Barefoot in the Park, is a fun and chaotic romantic play of the 60s. It revolves around a newly married couple; Cory (Samantha Fryer) and Paul (Austin Pierce). The play opens with Corie (Samantha Fryer) sizing up their new apartment on the fifth floor of an apartment building (without an elevator), an apartment that stands completely bare at the moment, as she tries to imagine where the new furniture will go and how they will get it up there. Her new husband, Paul, a newly employed Attorney is in the throes of his new job adjustment, his new life and his first wife. Having just struggled up 5 flights of stairs, he is a little more than exhausted and frustrated as he walks into the apartment, and discovers for the first time that nothing is currently working in there, including plumbing, heating, or toilet, and the furniture is totally late in arriving! To top it off, the skylight above their “basically” one room unit is broken, allowing the falling snow to drift down into their living room, with no easy way to repair it that night.

Corie is still enthralled from her sexually-awakening honeymoon, and is upbeat, romantic, passionate, funny, optimistic and somewhat child-like, seeing every new challenge and conflict as a quest, that like that of Don Quixote. She believes that all will turn out well in the end! If it does not, Paul is hardworking, grounded, mature, and equally passionate, but on the first evening in their new space, he is stressed as he has just been assigned his first court trial assignment and has paperwork that he must review and digest before he appears in court the next morning. Obviously, new bride Corie has other plans for their first evening in their first home! Then unexpectedly, Corie’s unattached mother, Ethel Banks (Beth Chastain), arrives to survey their new abode. To top it off, their upstairs neighbor-in-the-attic, a romantic hippie neighbor, Victor Velasco (William McNeil), arrives begging there permission to use their apartment exterior window ledge as his means of ingress to his attic apartment, now that he has been locked out, for not paying his rent! Oh my! Is marital bliss about to go completely amiss? What a chaotic blender life has become in just one evening, in one brownstone apartment, on the fifth floor, in New York City, for one newly-wed couple, a matchmaker daughter and an older couple at loose ends!

The acting is absolutely superb by everyone, including the telephone repairman (Tyler Chastain) and delivery man (Kevin Stone). The set design is by Hank Wilson and it works well! Tickets are very reasonable at $30 to $27 each and may be accessed by going to where you may secure your tickets. Performances are at 7:45pm on Friday and Saturday nights, with Sunday Matinees at 2:15 pm. You may call (925) 943-SHOW for more information. Absolutely do not miss this fun filled comedic riot, Barefoot in the Park, directed by Scott Fryer!

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