Saturday, March 22, 2014


Renaissance is a beautiful thing. And having never been to Coach House Theatre in the past, it was a treat to see what a new venue has in store. As I waited in my seat for the show, I was seated beside four wonderful ladies who were very happy to bring me up to date on the theatre, since I looked new. They talked about the Artistic Directors Nancy Cates* and Terry Burgler*. About how six years ago, when they learned about the new artistic directors, these ladies were thrilled because they knew the quality work that was about to begin. A Renaissance. Tonight’s performance of “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams is a beautiful example of what inspired creations now exist in the coach house. As for the play?

“The play is memory,” he says.

In the Wingfield apartment in St. Louis, the mother, Amanda, lives with her crippled daughter and her working son, Tom. At dinner she tells her daughter, Laura, to stay nice and pretty for her gentlemen callers even though Laura has never had any callers and expects none. Amanda asks Tom to find some nice gentleman caller for Laura and to bring him home for dinner. A few days later, Tom tells Amanda that he has invited a young man named Jim O'Connor home for dinner. Amanda immediately begins to make rather elaborate plans for the gentleman caller. Later, Amanda sends Jim, the gentleman caller, into the living room to keep Laura company while she and Tom do the dishes. As Jim and Laura talk, she loosens us, but the evening ends with crushing honesty. The evening ends with all parties finding themselves at crossroads, and pathetically in the dark, without even light to cast brilliance on to the glass figurines that Laura loves so much. But within this evening’s outline lay secrets and unresolved pasts.

Director Nancy Cates has assembled a sharp and elegant cast to bring this classic to life. She has used the depth of the stage to move scenes with an ebb and flow that seem as natural as passing though your own house. She has created a world that lights up as the action goes, centering our attention in a stylistic way that is refreshing. Her underscored music choices gently provide emotional support for specific moments that seem to connect perfectly. Cates has guided her actors to fine tune their immense talents with excellent results.

Leading this dysfunctional family is Amanda Wingfield, explicitly played by Dede Klein. This is a role for the big leagues. You can’t step into this role without sharp focus, clear characterization, deft timing and the power to command attention without wearing out the spot light. Klein delivers on every level. Whether she is working in the pit crew for gentlemen callers for her daughter, selling magazine subscriptions, or wearing her killer dress that looked like a cotillion blew up on her, Klein nails Amanda Wingfield. Bravo!

Joe Pine is mighty fine as Tom Wingfield. From the first moments we see him, he has an immediate connection with the audience. You can sense the truth in his acting. His face reads like the face of an old friend with whom you just connected again. As he travels through the evening, he balances the internal struggles and his current responsibilities with an engaging edge. Letting us see the inner struggle of what responsibilities have landed in his lap, and eventually how to get out of it. Pine plays it like a pro. When he is happy, we are, when he is upset, we are, and when he blows up, we are concerned and disheveled, and that is a wonderful thing to experience from live theatre. Pine is damn good!

Tess Burgler (Laura Wingfield) broke my heart tonight with her performance. So much of what Laura gets to do is so understated, but Burgler empowered Laura with her own light that completely pulled you in. A stunning representation of less is more, and her reactive acting, without having lines, spoke volumes where there were no words.  But, we heard her. Her disability was handled beautifully and naturally, and never came out of focus. And when she transforms for her gentleman caller, she is radiant, still allowing her vulnerability to maintain the conversation she has waited for her whole life. Beautiful work.

And here comes the gentleman caller, Jim O’Conner (Jeremy Jenkins). From the moment Jenkins is waiting for the door to be opened, he is in character, even blocked by steps. Love it! Jenkins does a great job coming into the lion’s den, or should I say Amanda’s Den. Sporting a great look and manners that would charm any household, he imbues O’Conner with life, brevity, and eventually some incredible instinct that really becomes great advice. When the affection goes too far, Jenkins plays the scene deftly, letting us see the awkward without becoming a caricature. Jenkins is well worth the wait.

This is a tight cast in a tight production. You can leave your watches at home; you will never check them during this show.

Kudos to the technical staff. Set Design by Terry Burgler, great use of space. Costume Design by Michael James right on point. Lighting Design by Mark Stoffer was tricky and well executed. Sound Design by H. Jackman added lots of emotional levels. Stage Manager Jerry Mirman called a great show.

Congratulations to Coach House Theatre on 86 years. That is amazing and, according to the ladies in the seats with me, this place keeps getting better.

Kevin Joseph Kelly


*Member SDC, the Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers


March 20 - April 6

8pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
2:30pm Sundays


(330) 434-7741
Order Tickets Online
Coach House Theatre
732 West Exchange Street
Akron, OH 44302

No comments:

Post a Comment