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Repertory theater stages a new take on a classic


Theatre — Troupes production of The Glass Menagerie opens Friday, focuses on memory

First time director Benjamin Vawter said he loves Tennessee Williams, but for his directional debut he wanted to try something a little different.

“Like with any classic play the audience has a lot of expectations coming into the room. They have read it or heard about it,” Vawter said. “I kind I just had to say, ‘Well, that’s great. Let’s try this thing. Let’s discover this work for ourselves.’”

Vawter is directing “The Glass Menagerie” for Valley Repertory Theatre, and said he latched onto the idea of memory.

“It all takes place in Tom’s head, which provides this really interesting visual aesthetic,” he said.by: GARY ALLEN - Classic play -- Valley Repertory Theatre rehearsals are underway for the troupe's latest production of 'The Glass Menagerie.' The play opens Friday at the Masonic Lodge.

“We can break the realism — the logical connection to day-to-day life — and really make it about what it means to go back in time and relive an experience.”

But he said as much as he loves Williams’ stage directions and imagery, he also wanted to strip the play down.

“I wanted to get to the essence — the most basic theatrical gesture,” Vawter said. “In today’s time we don’t connect with the same things that Tennessee William connected with (during) his time. There’s 70 years between when the play was written and performed in our production of it. We are an image-driven culture. Words have changed. They don’t mean quite the same thing that they did in the ’40s.”

For example, in the original script, Williams referred to “magic lanterns.”

“When the play was first performed on Broadway they cut this from the play because it wasn’t necessary,” he said. “I decided fairly early in the production process that I wanted to bring those elements back to the play. I thought the juxtaposition that projections offered us was a really powerful tool. We kind of expect a lot of information in the theater today. And it helps us add more information without too many words.”

Despite Vawter’s love of Williams, he said the play has been tough for him because of its tragedy.

“These characters really struggle. They’re constantly being bombarded by the industrial machine around them. The modern world is changing. People couldn’t be unique in the way that they used to be,” he said. “All that is to say … it’s a beautiful story about human desperation and never giving up.”

But perhaps the biggest challenge has been time. Vawter said there’s only been about four weeks of rehearsals.

“I have this great team of actors and this incredibly talented team of designers and this whole company behind me who are dedicated to making the story shine,” he said. “Valley Rep is a great place to take risks. They’re really into cultivating new talent in the theater. They aren’t afraid to say, ‘You’ve never done a sound design before? Okay, well, if you want to do that we’ll help you.’”

The Glass Menagerie opens March 7 at the Masonic Lodge, Sheridan and Blaine streets. For tickets, visit www.valleyrep.org.