Something vulgar is happening at the Brick Theater. Something vulgar, seedy, and grotesque. It's a twisted blend of Charles Addams, John Waters, and America's most beloved playwright Tennessee Williams:Ten Directions' production of Bouffon Glass Menajoree.
"Why would anyone do this an American masterpiece!" protests the show's own advertising; a question I found myself asking on the way to the theatre. So I was more than a little surprised to find this show really works on many levels. Yes, it is total theatrical sacrilege, and, I am forced to admit, delicious. Perhaps at times it does lie still and awkward like a Mad TV sketch, but many more moments are sublimely funny and unexpectedly witty. This sick, wild production doesn't merely run with the premise and characters of The Glass Menagerie, it takes the actual play and warps it—it's all there, oddly, beat by beat, grotesquely distorted and pretty much void of all decorum. This is a company that truly takes risks.
As in the original, the character of Tom frames the show, and here Lynn Berg does so in a highly entertaining performance. Berg makes a devilish, sharp, hyper-mannered Tom, replete with clever sight gags. Aimee German in a fat suit is a hilarious Amanda who eats—no, gorges—herself every moment of the play; a performance perhaps owing more to Edie the Egg Lady than to Jessica Lange or, heaven forbid, the legendary Laurette Taylor. The boldest choice in the production is, oddly enough, the performance that is most faithfully based on the original character—that of Laura—except all her problems are exaggerated tenfold. The hilarious Audrey Crabtree plays Laura indelibly, as an abused, self-destructive, obsessive lost soul with low self-esteem issues to the point of being a demented puppy. Donning cuts and bruises, nasty diapers and a filthy torn hospital gown, this is one Laura that you won't soon forget. If you think Laura had problems in the original—think again, my friend. You thought Amanda was a bad enough parent before with her bossy meddling and droning on? Oh no! And Tom's secret life and allusions to slightly deviant behavior are now fully realized (and fully deviant) as we finally learn all about the tricks up his sleeve and, well, down his pants.
Of course, if you know the play, you might be wondering how they perform it without the character of Jim, the Gentlemen Caller. The terrible trio prey each performance on an unsuspecting audience member to partake in their wicked merriment. I won't give too much away, but if you go thinking it could never be you or that you could somehow back out of it, think again: I was picked to be, well, picked on as the Jim du jour. It was a scary and strange experience, but lots of fun too. It also gave me newfound respect for these quick-witted, hard-working actors who make it look so fun and easy.
The play was developed by the delightful and gifted cast along with their director, the multi-talented (and clown himself) Eric Davis. Davis does a skillful job of never reining his actors in. The bits range from far-fetched gross-out to cunning puns, and are always dark and frequently funny. Davis makes sure his audience is always laughing, and cold beer is handed out during the performance, just to keep you included in the party on stage. Davis does triple duty, also designing the highly symbolic set of a broken giant Navajo Dream Catcher woven from a clothesline of dirty laundry—treading the line between bad taste and a nice nod to the poetic expressionism of Williams's original set description.
While it was Thomas Wolfe, a contemporary of Williams, who said, "you can't go home again," that sentiment certainly applies here. It will be a long time (read: NEVER) before I will be able to enjoy this great American play without being reminded of the battered, bruised, out-of-her-mind-psychotic Laura of this off-the-wall Bouffon version. Enjoy at your own peril.