Tennessee Williams is the unrivaled master of the one-act play. Southern Rep's recent premieres of Williams, one-acts from the 1930s gave us a chance to see the young playwright at work. Aimee Hayes directed the diverse pieces with verve and sensitivity.
The Pretty Trap is an early sketch of The Glass Menagerie. The domineering Amanda (Rebecca Taliancich) is determined to marry off her timid daughter Laura (Lucy Faust), and she's prevailed upon son Tom (Sean Glazebrook) to bring his coworker Jim (Chris Marroy) to dinner.
The dynamics of Menagerie are in place. Mother Amanda is, as Tom puts it, "a perennial Southern belle." And Jim calls Tom "Shakespeare," alluding to his penchant for writing poetry instead of focusing on work.
The glass figures that symbolize Laura's beauty and fragility play a central role. She finally relaxes with Jim when he asks to see a piece from her collection. His gentleness leads to her trust. They dance. They kiss. They go for a walk in the park at night. Many aspects of Menagerie are not yet developed. The most salient is Tom's role as tortured narrator — the alienated artist who sets out at the end, like his father did, and gets lost in a whirlwind of cities.
The Magic Tower encapsulates themes that haunted Williams all his life. The tower in question is a sordid attic occupied by a couple of young bohemians. Linda (Lara Grice) is a 26-year-old ex-vaudevillian who has hooked up with Jim (Alex Lemonier), an aspiring artist several years younger. Linda swirls and dances and emotes in her bright satin robe, as might be expected from someone who is used to being in the spotlight. But she's given all that up and her fantasy now is dedicated to the intimate world she shares with Jim. Like Blanche Dubois, she wants magic, not reality. Unfortunately, magic is a delicate refuge. Jim is broke, and when he leaves Linda alone even for a few minutes, she fears the tower will begin to crumble. The truth is it's already crumbling. Jim and Linda are months behind on the rent, and the landlady, Mrs. O'Fallon (Cecile Monteyne) is sweet on Jim but can't stomach Linda.
When an important art dealer arrives in town, Jim runs off to show his paintings. Meanwhile, Mitch (Chris Marroy) and Babe (Monteyne again), who are members of the vaudeville troupe Linda left, visit to offer Linda her job back. They also predict Jim will come to resent her as she ages and their finances remain wretched.
Jim returns after being rejected by the art dealer and he's crushed. Linda realizes the vaudevillians are right, and reality with all its faults trumps magic doomed to expire.
The cast was uniformly engaging and the production was smooth and crisp. — Dalt Wonk