Capsule Stage Reviews: The Glass Menagerie, Hunter Gatherers

The Glass Menagerie is arguably Tennessee Williams's greatest achievement. As fine as the exquisite glass ornaments one of its characters collects, the heartbreaking memory play focuses on one of American literature's most beautifully dysfunctional families, the Wingfields. It's a lovely choice for the inaugural production of The Landing Theatre Company, run by David Rainey (an Alley Theatre company member) and John Johnston (who oversees the Classical Theatre Company). At the center of the Wingfields' tragic tale is an overbearing mother named Amanda (Terri Branda Carter) who survives despite being abandoned by her husband in the 1930s, when the country was trying to pull out of the Great Depression. The aging Southern belle pins all her dying dreams onto her unfortunate children, neither of whom is up to the task of making her proud. Her daughter Laura (Lauren Ashley Miller) is too shy even to survive a typing class as she vomits on the floor at her first mistake. Her son Tom (Jon Egging) is a wannabe poet who must choose between his own dreams for adventure and his mother's need for him to take care of his sister. Directed by Rainey, this production is a valiant effort, though the cast is a bit rough around the edges. Carter is an odd choice to play Amanda — she's tough as nails, which Amanda needs to be, but the character should have the faded charm of an old Southern belle, and there's nothing faded or even all that Southern in Carter's Amanda. Egging has the right idea with his Tom — lost, lonely and wise — but he was shaky on his lines the night I saw the play, and Williams's poetry really should be blazed into the heart of anyone wanting to take it on. Lauren Miller and Michael Schultz (who plays Jim O'Connor, Laura's gentleman caller) are sweet and young and very inexperienced. As for the set, for some inexplicable reason, Frank Vela made it amazingly bright and cheerful, all done in whitewash and scrubbed clean, while the world of Williams's play should be full of the cobwebs of memory, the dust of desires never realized. Through July 11. The O'Kane Theatre at the University of Houston Downtown, 1 Main, 713-487-5634. — LW

Hunter Gatherers Civilization is a ruse. Down in our guts, we're all just bloodthirsty animals. That's the truth devouring audiences of Catastrophic Theatre's remount of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's hilariously gory Hunter Gatherers. The four-character play Catastrophic first produced last year to critical raves is running this year at DiverseWorks. The show is violent fun, featuring a slaughtered lamb, sodomy and a strangling, among other violations of the flesh. Sleek urbanites Richard (Greg Dean) and Pam (recast this year with Shelley Calene-Black) plan to party all night with a couple they've known since high school. And when Wendy (Amy Bruce) and Tom (Troy Schulze) arrive, it's the start of an evening that will change everyone's life in the end. Wearing a tight miniskirt and high-heeled boots, Wendy rages that her husband Tom is sterile, screaming, "Every single sperm in his nuts is a retard." Richard pins Tom yet again in their yearly match of who's the strongest man, a game the mild-mannered Tom would just as soon do away with, unless they add "a written portion." All this is just in the early part of the evening. The violence seems to have nowhere to go, but Nachtrieb is not afraid to take his story to its grotesque end. Director Jason Nodler has a marvelous grasp of every comedic possibility in this script. Dean is perfectly cast as Richard — testosterone personified. Bruce is a wonderfully awful man-stealer. And Calene-Black is a pool of calm reserve in this storm of hedonism. But the real standout in this show is Schulze, whose razor-sharp comic timing amps up the volume of this entire production as soon as he finally gets onstage. Part of what makes this show so wonderful is the shock of where it dares to go. Second-timers might not enjoy it as much as last year's production, just because they know what sort of whacked-out weirdness is coming next. But even without the surprises, the show is good and nasty fun. Through July 17. DiverseWorks, 1117 East Fwy., 713-522-2723. — LW

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Lee Williams