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Old Plays New Tricks

This week HowlRound posted a beautiful article about a recent production of The Glass Menagerie involving puppets. I admittedly opened the article full of skepticism, but only a couple of sentences in I began to fall in love with this production I’ve never seen. To read the full article just click here.

This article made me question how we, as contemporary theatre artists, interpret “classic” work. Reinventions and adaptations abound the American Theatre. They’re commercially viable, and inherently entertaining because there’s a reason the “classics” have survived. Although Tennessee Willaim may not be every theatre artist’s favorite playwright there was a time when many theatre artists discovered his genius. But how do we keep these texts alive when so many ensembles have performed their words?

There’s a fine line between supporting a script with a “new vision”, and drowning a script in a “new vision”. I’m not stranger to highly conceptualized productions of classic plays. When I played Romeo in high school I wore eye liner, a pink flannel, and sang The Scientist by Coldplay as I drank the deathly potion at the end. Why? Something about making the play accessible to high school students. However we cut both Romeo and Juliet’s final monologues in place of Coldplay. How would Tony Kushner respond if Angels in America was performed in 1920s attire and Harper’s final monologue was replaced with a U2 song?

This production of The Glass Menagerie, however, draws from specific textual moments. The director chose to expand on Williams’s images rather then squash others. Even just reading his outline of their production I begin to see the play anew. If new productions don’t shed new light on old plays how do we plan to engage modern audiences?

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