The Pretty Trap
nytheatre.com review by Stephen Cedars
August 2, 2011
There's plenty to appreciate about the New York premiere of The Pretty Trap, a one-act version of The Glass Menagerie that Tennessee Williams wrote during his time perfecting his masterpiece. Though the play follows the same basic structure as the famous version (Amanda Wingfield desperately indulges in her delusions as she hopes to match her handicapped daughter Laura with a gentleman caller brought home from her son Tom's workplace), the author describes this work as a comedy, and indeed, the Cause Celebre production honors that distinction. It paints the characters in broader strokes, allowing the ravings of Amanda, as realized by Katharine Houghton, to come off as enjoyable and jokey rather than deep and depressing. The audience laughed more than you'd see in Glass Menagerie, and the tension between Tom and Laura's dreams and realities are dissipated in a more comic pace and a happy ending.
Even with the comic sense of the play, director Anthony Marsellis does allow the actors to take their time, and uses long periods of silence onstage to suggest the depth of the situation although the text works against that in some ways. These long, silent moments serve not only as testament to Williams's ability to constantly rewrite his own work, but also his inability to escape the full poetry implicit in his perception.
And yet the show almost never transcends its slight nature. Part of that is due to a paltry run time—the press information and front-of-house provided it as 80 minutes, but our show was only just over 45 minutes. At a high ticket price—$66 to $130—the length only emphasizes that the play's primary value is academic. Again, it's enjoyable enough, it all plays well, the realistic design of the Wingfield apartment is nice, and the acting, especially Houghton's, pays homage to the near-archetypal characters of the American theatre, but I found the deepest resonances came not from what happened on stage but from the associations with The Glass Menagerie that the play engendered. I certainly don't mean to diminish the value of appreciating Williams's early drafts, as there has been a surplus of those throughout New York in the past years, but it's an extremely high ticket price for the limited insight it offers into a play that audiences who can afford it will undoubtedly know well.
Then again, perhaps that is the very draw for the show. I would never want to dissuade a Williams enthusiast from the rare experience of watching the writer grapple with his themes. Certainly, it's fascinating to confront a version of this story without the melancholy catharsis of Tom's final speech from Glass Menagerie, as it suggests that Williams had yet to build the courage or callousness to blow Laura's candles out. But for me, that fascination proved fleeting where one might hope to glean from Tennessee's work something far more enduring.