Something I struggle with often is a love for theater classics, but a boredom associated with seeing them done as they always have been and also an irritation towards seeing an arbitrary and often bizarre concept slapped on to a familiar text. I think we often walk this line in academic theater, in a space where we are allowed to experiment without regard to ticket sales or critical review we are willing to push pieces conceptually with predictably varying degrees of success. So I am always looking for what constitutes that success. What do modern productions have to offer these old dogs.
Eric Bass has one possible answer. In Erfurt, Germany in 2013 he decided to take on Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie but with puppets. With them he played into the marriage and intertwining of the multiple worlds. That of Tom’s memory and the present and that of Laura’s reality and her fantasy world of glass. The puppets play very well into the sentiment of memory and providing a contrast of scale to the actor so depending on the scene or moment Tom may be a puppet or an actor. But of course such a large shift in concept provided challenges. Text changes had to be made and logistically, intimacy and speaking are challenges that had to be navigated. But the end result was that the puppets served to unlock the play in a new way. Tom was able to observe his memory, or participate in it if he so chose. He could manipulate it, or step away from the doll’s house altogether.
This is the kind of work that strikes me. A classic becomes a classic because it is multifaceted, complicated, and asking to be unlocked. Different concepts can tap into different facets. If we are to enact a particularly radical concept it must peel back a new layer. We cannot allow it to be arbitrary or else risk disservice to the text.
Read more about this brilliant production here: