Celebrating 75 Years of The Glass Menagerie at Artscape

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Artsvark Presser

Artsvark Presser is directly connected to the South African Arts Community, and spits out press releases and other news as passed on by community members.
Artsvark Presser

(CAPE TOWN, October 2019) On a cold winter night in December 1944, The Glass Menagerie had its world-premiere in Chicago. That legendary performance and the ardent support of two Chicago theatre critics, catapulted Tennessee Williams, the then-unknown author, to celebrity status and launched his career as America’s greatest playwright. The Glass Menagerie became an instant classic, went on to be translated into more than twenty languages, and is still regularly performed on stages across the world. Now, seventy-five years later, in celebration of both play and playwright, Abrahamse and Meyer Productions bring a brand-new production of this much-loved Williams masterpiece to the Artscape Arena this November.

Glass MenagerieTheatre historian, Trevor R. Griffith describes The Glass Menagerie as “an almost perfect miniature, which distils Williams’ gift for transmuting autobiography into art. A talkative, domineering mother, Amanda Wingfield, runs roughshod over her shy daughter, Laura, and her rebellious son, Tom. In an effort to kindle a romance for Laura, she invites to dinner one of Tom’s workmates, Jim, The Gentleman Caller, only to watch her well-intentioned plans fall to pieces as cruelly as the glass figurines in the menagerie of the title. Written with a fragile delicacy, the play not only offers a haunting portrait of the dramatist as a young man – but also a quartet of superb parts that have been the cornerstones of many actors’ careers.” Williams’ contemporary and fellow Pulitzer-winning playwright, Arthur Miller raved “It is usually forgotten what a revolution Williams’ first great success meant to the theatre. The Glass Menagerie in one stroke lifted lyricism to its highest level in our theatre’s history.”

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The Glass Menagerie has had an illustrious stage history in the mother city. It was first staged seventy years ago in1949 at The Little Theatre directed by Leonard Schach starring Rosalie van der Gucht as Amanda. Schach recalls: “I had been able to get the rights directly from Williams’ formidable agent, Audrey Wood. They were the first foreign rights given anywhere in the world. This put South African theatre in the forefront of the world’s attention.” The production played to capacity houses for over three-weeks, making it the first play at the Little to run for more than 3 performances. The play was next staged at the legendary anti-apartheid theatre, The Space in 1974 directed by Bill Tanner starring Yvonne Bryceland, Bill Flynn and Wilson Dunster. The Glass Menagerie was last seen in Cape Town thirty years ago when the Baxter Theatre presented the play in September 1989, directed by Fred Abrahamse, starring Brenda Wood, Michelle Scott, Stephen Jennings and Geoffrey Hyland. That production was so successful it played a return season at the Baxter that December.

From 1 till 30 November The Glass Menagerie returns to the boards, this time, in the intimate confines of the Artscape Arena.

Internationally lauded for their innovative stagings of plays from the Tennessee Williams canon, Abrahamse & Meyer Productions have brought several Williams classics to the Artscape Theatre Centre, including Kingdom of Earth [2012], The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore [2013], One Arm [2014] and Sweet Bird of Youth [2018]. In addition to these award-winning productions at Artscape, since 2015, Abrahamse & Meyer have also annually staged site-specific productions of Williams’ shorter plays at the Vineyard Hotel in Newlands. These plays, staged under the collective title of The Hotel Plays, have included several South African premieres like Green Eyes, The Remarkable Rooming House of Mme. Le Monde, A Perfect Analysis Given By A Parrot, Talk To Me Like The Rain And Let Me Listen and this year’s highly acclaimed In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel.

Leading the star-studded cast of the 2019 revival is doyenne of the South African stage, Fiona Ramsay, who returns to the Mother City to star in the coveted role of Amanda Wingfield. Earlier this year Ms Ramsay picked up a Best Actress nomination at the annual Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards for her tour-de-force portrayal of another Williams heroine, The Princess Kosmonopolis in Sweet Bird of Youth. Matthew Baldwin and Jenny Stead star as the siblings Tom and Laura Wingfield. Mr Baldwin has appeared in several Abrahamse & Meyer Productions, most recently playing Romeo in the company’s revival of Shakespeare’s R&J in Johannesburg and Leonard in Tennessee Williams’ In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel at the Vineyard Hotel. Ms Stead was most recently seen in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Fatal Attraction and as Janet in the Fugard Theatre’s long-running The Rocky Horror Show. Rounding off the cast of four is Marcel Meyer in the role of the Gentleman Caller. Meyer is no stranger to the Williams oeuvre having played several of Williams’ leading men. Last month Meyer won acclaim in the USA for his portrayal of Reverend Shannon in Williams’ classic The Night of the Iguana at the annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival.

Multi-award-winning Fred Abrahamse takes on dual duties as director and scenic designer. Abrahamse is internationally regarded as a leading exponent on the work of Williams, having directed twelve of the playwright’s plays on stages across the USA and South Africa. Abrahamse’s long-time collaborators, Marcel Meyer and Faheem Bardien join the creative team as costume [Meyer] and lighting [Bardien] designers. Both Bardien and Meyer have been nominated for and won numerous awards for their design work.

Music plays a central role in Williams’ conception of The Glass Menagerie and to this end, Abrahamse & Meyer have commissioned up-and-coming Cape Town composer, Jaco Griessel to compose an original score for the production.

With its unforgettable blend of lyrical language, haunting visuals and melancholic music, The Glass Menagerie promises to be one of the must-see theatre experiences of the 2019 season.

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