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CTP drives home drama and regret

“The Glass Menagerie” is a tormented, anguished exercise in abuse and discontent. Directed by Russell Lloyd, Tennessee Williams’ largely autobiographical work opened Jan. 18, at the Collaborative Theatre Project in Medford.

The Wingfield family members can barely hold their household together, and truly, they struggle to maintain their sanity. “The Glass Menagerie” is a memory play, and it is Tom Wingfield’s regrets that are played out on the stage, the characters giving breath to memory. Tom’s life is unbearable in every respect — he longs for adventure and freedom but is locked into a job at the shoe warehouse to provide for his mother and sister. Tom lives out his mother’s worst fears and carries on his father’s legacy when he leaves the family behind.

“The Glass Menagerie” is Tom’s guilt-ridden, angry look back on his miserable home life and his frail, lame sister Laura, left to her mother’s manipulation.

Christian Mengel, making his Rogue Valley debut as Tom, makes that mean, self-destructive role his own by holding his shoulders tense and tight, focusing inwardly on a miserable life. As Tom, Mengel is loud and angry and resentful toward his mother, Amanda, played by Lisa-Marie Newton, and caring but distant toward his sister, Laura, played by Hazel-Marie Werfel.

Director Russell Lloyd says Williams’ play is about those internal feelings — love, loss, regret, anger, guilt — and there’s a lot of language and poetry. It’s a tough play to perform and a hard play to watch.

“I love the way that Tennessee Williams tells stories that are interpersonal,” notes Lloyd. “They aren’t necessarily grand statements on society but interpersonal searches and difficulties and triumphs.”

As Tom, Mengel talks directly to the audience of his past; it is his perspective that shapes the play and gives theater-goers knowledge of the other characters. We see Tom’s family through his eyes as his family re-enacts the scenes of his memory.

Newton and Werfel were mother and daughter in CTP’s performance of “The Diary of Anne Frank” last year. That relationship and the characters they portrayed are almost polar opposites to those in “The Glass Menagerie.” As Amanda, Newton is a frustrated Southern belle in reduced circumstances. She is loud, domineering, destructive and oblivious to reality. Newton portrays Amanda as inescapable and won’t shut up, invading her family’s personal space and allowing them no privacy. Newton’s experience in dialect and cultural mannerisms show on stage with her meaningless trivial gestures that reinforce Southern female stereotypes.

As Laura, Werfel is pitiful — just as the role demands — and her natural ebullience and energy is carefully controlled and focused. Lame and consumed with anxiety and insecurity, Werfel as Laura is never quite at ease on stage and only briefly exhibits any sense of normalcy. Those narrow rays of light are fragile glass figures, private moments at the library and zoo and, amazingly, with Evan Sheets in the role of Jim.

Jim brings the external world into the performance and a semblance of weird future possibilities. As Jim, Sheets is buoyant, self-confident and ambitious. He is dapper and almost indestructible, but he deceives and destroys, such as when he steals a kiss to cement Laura’s affections only to escape to his own reality.

“The Glass Menagerie” was Williams’ breakout play, and perhaps that’s because the emotions such as regret and guilt are so universal.

“The Glass Menagerie” continues at the Collaborative Theatre Project, 555 Medford Center, through Feb. 10. Tickets cost $15 to $25. Assistive listening devices are available at no cost. For more information, call the box office at 541-779-1055 or see CTPMedford.org.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Hazel-Marie Werfel plays the delicate Laura Wingfield, and Lisa-Marie Newton plays Amanda Wingfield in Collaborative Theatre Project's production of "The Glass Menagerie." Photo by Dinah Greenfield