The Glass Mendacity | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Glass Mendacity


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the Illegitimate Players

at Victory Gardens Studio

The Illegitimate Players have gone legit. In their new show, the comedy troupe have moved beyond the confines of cabaret and cable TV to a real theater; instead of the revue format of such previous efforts as Out on a Whim and Near North Side Story, they've put together a real, honest-to-goodness, full-length play with a plot--or rather a hodgepodge of plots, drawn from the best-known dramas of Tennessee Williams.

With his overheated story lines, larger-than-life characters, and extravagant, symbol-laden, southern-inflected dialogue, Williams is especially susceptible to parody, as innumerable blackout sketches in stage revues, TV shows, and school and summer-camp talent nights have attested over the years. It's easy to come up with a scene or two spoofing the creator of such American archetypes as Blanche DuBois, Stanley Kowalski, Big Daddy, and Amanda Wingfield; what's tricky is to sustain lampoonery over a full evening. That's just what Illegitimate members Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth have done--very ably and amusingly--in their new two-act comedy, The Glass Mendacity, a Fractured Flickers takeoff on three of Williams's most famous plays.

The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are all family dramas--in most of his plays, Williams was really writing about his own bizarre clan. Fittingly, Morley and Willmorth have set their story at Belle Reve, the long-lost homestead of Streetcar's disintegrated DuBois family. And what a family! Big Daddy (Keith Cooper) is off beating the field hands and guzzling Maalox juleps, while his wife, Amanda (Maureen FitzPatrick), reminisces about the gentleman callers she received as a debutante. (The exact number of gentleman callers escalates with every reverie.) Their offspring have plenty to keep them busy: Blanche (played by Kathy Jensen as a cross between Vivien Leigh and Bette Midler), now married to Stanley, sinks into madness while tossing off choruses of lewd sea chanties, while crippled, painfully shy Laura (Maureen FitzPatrick again) plays with her glass menagerie and listens to Shaun Cassidy records on the Victrola, leaving the room occasionally to vomit in the john and just generally annoy the hell out of everyone. Brother Brick--very much the strong, silent type as played here by a department-store display dummy--broods about his alcoholism and homosexuality, while his scheming wife, Maggie, runs around in her slip trying to outwit Stanley, who spends his time in his undershirt drinking beers stuck with mint sprigs. For good measure, Morley and Willmorth have thrown in one all-purpose gentleman caller, Mitch, who woos both Blanche and Laura while dispensing legal advice to Big Daddy.

Morley and Willmorth don't really capture Williams's writing style; rather, they pepper their script with patches of famous dialogue, drawing plenty of laughs when lines from different plays collide with each other--and with occasional bits lifted from Shakespeare, Emily Bronte, and Stephen King. The plot revolves around the various siblings' and in-laws' efforts to swindle each other out of Big Daddy's fortune; it's a merry-go-round of illusion and insanity, sex and self-pity, "lies, deceit, and mendacity--and redundancy," as one snatch of dialogue has it. Watching this collection of classic crazies--aided immeasurably by Consuelo Allen's tackily caricatured costumes and a collection of wonderfully awful hairpieces for the wigged-out women--is like watching a Williams wax museum come to life, the statues interacting almost by accident as they pursue their individual obsessions. Even as its absurdity makes you laugh, the play's gimmick underscores Williams's vision of life as "solitary confinement."

There is a flaw built into The Glass Mendacity. The show's humor derives entirely from its mixed-and-mismatched references to the source scripts, so an audience's appreciation of the comedy will be in direct proportion to their familiarity with the original plays. And though the cast members, under Marlene Zuccaro's direction, play off each other efficiently and intuitively--this is obviously an ensemble that's been together quite a while--they don't deliver the kind of high-style performance the material needs to soar as comedy and theater. What this play needs is actors with grand stage presence and finely honed technique to match their eccentric personalities and distinctive dialogue. What a great show this would be in the hands of a group like the Ridiculous Theater in New York, which specializes in the collision of class and camp. As it is, the Illegitimate's Glass Mendacity will delight any Williams buff with its nonstop barrage of informed in-jokes.

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