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Re-Viewing the Classics

Tweaking Tennessee: Cross Big Mama from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Amanda from The Glass Menagerie and what do you get? Big Amanda, that's what. She's one of a most peculiar lot in The Glass Mendacity, a send-up of three Tennessee Williams plays (A Streetcar Named Desire being the third). At New Heights Theatre she's brought to life by a man in drag -- an inspired lunacy, that -- who looks a little like Ethel Merman but who acts like Katharine Hepburn. Actor Randall W. Jobe's mixed metaphor sums up this production: amusing, but wide of the mark.

Some of this misguidedness isn't New Heights' fault; Mendacity -- conceived in 1989 by four members of The Illegitimate Players in Chicago -- is less parody than lampoon. It doesn't take what it's poking fun at seriously. Symbolically paralyzed Brick is portrayed by a mannequin ("Manny Kenn" in New Heights' playbill); his wife, Maggie the Cat, is in heat for Stanley Kowalski, who hasn't changed one bit -- except for the fact that he's married to Blanche. Blanche, fond of dirty limericks, is pursued by Mitch (Streetcar) O'Connor (Menagerie), who's loved by Laura, the "sister-gimp" who, accidentally cutting her wrists on her menagerie, decided to start sculpting from party ice cube molds.

Though there's a plot -- who of Big Daddy's children will get his legacy? -- the raison d'étre is inside jokes. And while director Ron Jones deserves credit for getting the cast to go for broke, ultimately there's not much that's deliriously over the top. Still, since there's little artistically at stake here, what more can you expect than Amanda in a kimono?

Wilson as Bard: To call Robert Wilson's remarkable Hamlet a monologue a play is imprecise. The production, which had its world premiere at the Alley last week, is a sublime vision from the most daring artist in contemporary theater. In 15 scenes that reshuffled moments from Shakespeare's tragedy, Wilson stayed paradoxically true to the Bard by attending to his own idiosyncratic blend of minimalistic theatrics and fervent anti-naturalism. Wilson, who not only wrote but performed and directed his work, proved in absolute command of his voice and body. While it wasn't immediately evident why he unfolded some events as he did, and while some machinations -- standing on tiny white rubber balls, dancing a bizarre bump and grind -- were as baffling as they were attention-getting, the overall experience was stunning. And the finale, summing up the "mess" Hamlet has made by scattering a trunk of costumes, had a profound emotional purity.

-- Peter Szatmary

The Glass Mendacity plays through June 11 at New Heights Theatre, 339 West 19th Street, 869-8927.

 
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