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Shatterproof Production
Highly Recommended ****
exceptionally fine performance
**** 4 stars  #1 Critics' Pick
polished truth
Jacqueline Grandt
Featured Performer of the week

Highly Recommended - Chilling

criticHighly Recommended
Reviewed by Beverly Friend, Ph.D. for chicagocritic.com

Shatterproof production

Some plays are so brilliant, so perceptive, so poignant that they can be seen time and again — each viewing revealing another gem. This is the case with The Glass Menagerie. In this classic work, four anguished characters — successfully depicted by Redtwist Theatre’s excellent cast — are not only unrelievedly human but also amazingly archetypal.

Amanda (Jacqueline Grandt), a southern belle well past her prime, lives in the memory of her youthful triumphs — 17 Gentlemen Callers once visited her on the same day.  However, in spite of all her social agility, she wed unwisely — a mate who later abandoned her.

The children she has raised alone — agonizingly shy Laura (Sarah Mayhan) and bitterly unhappy Tom (Ryan Heindl) — fail to live up to her expectations.  Laura has never had a date; Tom is working a dead-end menial job.  A controlling mother trying to live vicariously through her children, Amanda destroys any possibility of positive relationship — although she is obsessed with trying to achieve their happiness.

Grandt captures every nuance of Amanda’s multi-faceted character: the non-stop speech, the flirtatiousness, the tendency to overshadow the daughter she wants to push forward. It is a complex characterization where the pain of the mother continually interrupts her vivacious, unrealistic attempts to shape her little world. How sad to see her working to sell magazine subscriptions over the phone to very unwilling acquaintances. She may seem silly, sometimes shallow, yet Amanda (and her plight) pulls at our heartstrings.

Mayhan is perfect as the diffident, awkward, unhappy daughter Laura, experiencing one glimmer of romance, only to be dashed down again. A paralyzing timidity cripples housebound Laura far more than her injured leg.

Chris Daley as the brash gentleman caller strikes just the right note of a man who has failed to live up to early promise, now renewing attempts via night school and public speaking classes. His ultimate unwitting cruelty undercuts his original kindness.

Heindl as would-be poet Tom — narrating memories of his narrow, stultifying life — is the voice of playwright Tennessee Williams. This semi-autobiographical play illustrates that love is not enough to hold a family together, and that running away does not eliminate the ensuing pangs of guilt.

Screenwriter Norah Ephron once told her writing daughters (Nora, Delia, Haley and Amy), “Everything is Copy” — meaning that life experiences can (and should) be turned into art.  That is certainly what Williams has done here — capturing and distilling his own pain to create a memorable play with vivid characters. If you have never seen The  Glass Menagerie, you have missed a rare treat. And, of course, for those of you “in the know” — here is another opportunity to experience a great drama, a truly haunting experience — and it couldn’t be handled any better than with this fine production at Redtwist Theatre.

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AroundHighly Recommended****
Reviewed by Al Bresloff

For those of you familiar with Redtwist Theatre, that little black box that does red hot drama located in Edgewater, you know that you can always expect quality work, and with their latest offering, Tennessee Williams masterpiece, autobiography dealing with false hopes, desperation and survival, they have taken us closer into the personalities of the characters. For those of you unfamiliar, now is your time to learn why this company gets nomination after nomination from the Jeff Awards. Redtwist is a very intimate theater, a pure storefront located on Bryn Mawr Avenue, with people walking on the sidewalks only yards away from the  stage, but once you enter this “black box” realty disappears--you are in a theater that allows the passion of the playwright and the work of the actors to allow you to leave your life outside on Bryn Mawr so you can see the lives that Williams has created on the stage.

Directed by Josh Altman on a creative set by Henry Behel, we are in the apartment of what easily could be Williams’ family. He is represented by Tom (a strong performance by Ryan Heindl, who is also our story teller. His mother is deftly played by Jaqueline Grandt and his sister by Sarah Mayan. They live in St. Louis. The mother, Amanda , once a lovely Southern Belle, who chose wrong and has been abandoned by her husband, left caring for two youngsters, is in hopes that her daughter, Laura, who has a slight defect, will find a “gentleman caller” who will give her the life she had hoped for herself. Tom, like his father, is unhappy with his life and escapes from his day to day existence each night to the movies. A pure dysfunctional family each with their own dreams and illusions, hopes of a better life and desperate to survive and exist.

Laura has no faith in herself and spends her days in her own make believe world with her glass collection, one that her mother calls her “Glass Menagerie”. Amanda is desperate for her daughter to find the right man and when Tom invites a co-worker to dinner, Amanda begins to shine with the possibility of her dreams and hopes coming true. As it turns out, Jim (a strong performance by Chris Daley) attended High School with both on the Wingfields, and Laura had a deep crush on him those six years earlier. In fact, both Tom and Laura admired and worshiped Jim in those days. He had it all. He was popular, was in the musical, chorus, and had all that they were lacking. In his dinner scene with Laura, one that appears to be quite romantic as directed by Altman, we learn that Jim also had dreams broken and that he didn’t give up--he will attain higher a position in his life and tries to show Laura that she can as well.

Being done in a theater the size of Redtwist adds a certain amount of intimacy that I have never experienced with this play and I applaud them for taking on something as strong as this play, one that is truly white hot drama! A production such as this one relies on all the parts to work together--the director and his actors can only bring a script to life with solid production, people and “Menagerie” has just that. The lighting by Heather Gilbert sets the moods of each scene’s emotional status, the original music by Christopher Kriz solidifies what Williams is saying and Kelsey Ettman’s costumes along with props by Nick Heggestad complete the picture. I guess the only thing in this production that bothered me was the fake smoking by Tom. In fact, many of the theaters, since smoking is no longer allowed on stage, have gone to the “electronic” cigarette, which looks fake and often that actor who is asked to handle this prop, is not, or has never been a smoker, thus they hold it wrong and don’t light it properly ( or even dispose of it in the right way). I wish there was another way to present a smoker when the script of action calls for it, as I find it distracting from that action and often one little distraction can take one’s focus away from what is in most ways a must see production of a classic play in the most intimate of settings one can imagine.

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CTBRating: ★★★
Reviewed by John Olson

An intimate ‘Menagerie’ with an engaging Amanda

Like Writers’ Theatre’s production of Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire two years ago, Redtwist’s take on The Glass Menagerie literalizes a claustrophobic setting. In this show, the Wingfield’s cramped 1930’s St. Louis Apartment – accessible only by a fire escape leading into the alley – is placed in the tiny Redtwist storefront theater, making Tom Wingfield’s sense of confinement sharing the two-room apartment with his strident mother and mildly disabled sister quite palpable. It’s one of two main reasons to catch Redtwist’s revival of the Williams classic: the other being the exceptionally fine performance by Jacqueline Grandt in the role of matriarch Amanda.

A former southern belle who has fallen dramatically from her former social and economic station, Amanda is frequently compared with Streetcar’s Blanche DuBois, and the two do share a habit of living in their bygone better days. But as played by Grandt, Amanda is hardly delusional. She seems fully aware of the dire financial situation her depression-era family has been in since the departure of her husband some 16 years earlier. Her Amanda is at times overbearing, but we always understand that she is coming from a very legitimate fear of destitution with the family dependent on Tom’s meager salary as a warehouse clerk and some earnings of her own selling magazine subscriptions. Daughter Laura is unable to gain employment or suitors and the two would have difficulty supporting themselves if Tom were to leave. Grandt shows Amanda’s attempts to control the actions of her two children as part of a survival strategy more than evidence of a controlling nature. She fondly remembers her past days of entertaining numerous “gentlemen callers,” but Grandt makes Amanda seem very aware that she lives in the present. Further, she seems to blame her own bad choice of a husband rather than the deserting husband himself. She’s no victim, but is a survivor. Her efforts to recreate for her daughter something like the charmed childhood she enjoyed are simply examples of Amanda drawing on the skills she learned back then – not so much a belief that they can entirely be recovered. This interpretation by Grandt and director Josh Altman make an Amanda with whom we can empathize, rather than a controlling monster as she’s sometimes portrayed.

It’s not as easy for us to care about this production’s Tom. As played by Ryan Heindl, Tom seems hyper-nervous and high strung – and while this is entirely justified by the script, we need to get a greater sense of Tom’s ties to his family than Heindl shows us, and simply like and care about him more. Here, he seems to be more irritating than Amanda – as selfish as she accuses him of being rather than the lonely dreamer who is just busting to get out and experience the world. Sarah Mayhan does fine as Laura, capturing her fragility and intense anxiety at any engagement with the world outside the little apartment. Chris Daley nails the outgoing nature and charm of Jim, the gentleman caller, but he doesn’t entirely show what’s going on inside Jim’s mind as he’s briefly drawn to Laura. Williams script is ambiguous on this point, and the actor playing Jim needs to make some decisions on what sort of subtext to suggest.

The set by Henry Behel wraps the Redtwist space in faded wallpaper and uses some simple pieces of furniture to establish time and place, as do Kelsey Ettman’s period costumes. An oversized photo of the absent father hangs along the upstage wall, suggesting his role in the family’s current circumstances and his place in their memories. Heather Gilbert achieves some neat lighting effects for this memory play, which Williams says is to be dimly lit – including the long candlelight scene between Jim and Laura, and the red glow of the dance hall across the alley. Christopher Kriz has composed a lovely original score that helps establish a melancholy mood.

Altman (assistant director for the acclaimed production of Streetcar at Writers’) has given audiences a faithful interpretation of this Williams classic. The intimacy of the Redtwist space and the fresh take on Amanda by Ms. Grandt, give reasons for those familiar with the piece to return to it once again.

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#1 Critics' Pick 8/16/12
Redtwist’s intimate, affecting production finds new cracks in Tennessee Williams’s fragile creatures.

By Kris Vire

You may think you’ve paid enough visits to the Wingfields’ St. Louis tenement and its fragile occupants—those made of glass as well as the flesh-and-blood. But set aside your gauzy memories of Tennessee Williams’s career-making memory play. Redtwist’s intimate, imperative Glass Menagerie, one of the most affecting I’ve seen, finds new crevices of raw emotion in the familiar work.

Director Josh Altman emphasizes the play’s dreamlike quality without resorting to the diaphanous preciousness that can befall it. Ryan Heindl’s wiry, electric Tom steps in and out of the present action—his painfully remembered past—with the quick-cut logic of reminiscence, helped by Christopher Kriz’s evocative sound design and Heather Gilbert’s stunningly transformative lighting, which almost imperceptibly grows warmer in Tom’s more heated memories.

Jacqueline Grandt’s Amanda is a believable faded belle, grounded in the disappointments of her own life but resolute in her determination to secure “success and happiness for my precious children!” Sarah Mayhan seems at first too subdued as shy, mildly crippled Laura, but in her extended scene with gentleman-caller Jim (Chris Daley, smartly shifting from surface charm to genuine emotion) she blossoms into a full glow that makes her subsequent devastation all the more heartbreaking. Henry Behel’s open scenic design makes clever use of depth of field, with the portrait of Tom and Laura’s absent father looming, like everything in Tom’s memory, several times larger than life.

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A Classic Handled with Care
Reviewed by Katy Walsh

me·nag·er·ie [muh-naj-uh-ree, -nazh-]
1.  a collection of wild or unusual animals, especially for exhibition.
2.  a place where they are kept or exhibited.
3.  an unusual and varied group of people.

Redtwist Theatre presents THE GLASS MENAGERIE.  Tom and Laura live with their mother.  Tom works in a warehouse but longs to travel the world.  

Laura hides at home taking care of her glass animal collection.  Their overbearing mother is a former southern belle with illusions of grandeur.  Their father left them a long time ago.  But still they wait... for his return or someone’s arrival.  They need something to happen to get unstuck.  THE GLASS MENAGERIE is a classic handled with care.

Playwright Tennessee Williams wrote this autobiographical memory play.  Williams gave the world a compelling glimpse of his childhood:  a domineering mother, an endearing sister and an absent father.  Director Josh Altman takes the splintered remains of Williams past and makes it real.  The set designed by Henry Behel is like a type of doll house.  There is  an old fashion living room but it’s encircled by space.  Not only is the audience looking into this childhood memory but  Altman also has Ryan Heindl (Tom aka Tennessee) often on the outskirts as an observer.  In addition, an over-size picture of the deadbeat father looms just outside the homey interior.  It’s a powerful metaphor to the essences of the play.

Heindl delivers a perfectly conflicted performance. His disdain for his mother and his compassion for his sister keep him unhappily rooted.  Jacqueline Grandt (mom) plays cruel with masterful determination and “Mommie Dearest” sniping.   Grandt’s hostess skills are uncomfortably authentic and awkward.  Her fake laughter and flirting are nails-on-the-chalkboard icky.  Sarah Mayhan (Laura) is a heartbreaker.  Mayhan blossoms on stage.  Her chemistry with Chris Daley (Jim) is just ah-shucks-sweet.  The amicable Daley brings the charm with a light-hearted touch.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE is complicatedly simplistic.  It’s a poignant childhood tribute to the legendary playwright.  There are plenty of versions of THE GLASS MENAGERIE this year in Chicago.  Redtwist’s production is straightforward with equal parts fragility and strength.  The polished truth left me unsettled and hopeful.

Continuing to decipher the play’s message long after the curtain, Ellen describes it with ‘let him go.’

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Redtwist's Chilling The Glass Menagerie Makes Williams' Classic Well Worth Revisiting

Reviewed by Robert Bullen

Tennessee Williams' deeply personal masterpiece, The Glass Menagerie, has, perhaps in some people's estimation, been done to death. However, lucky for me, I've only read the play but never seen it performed -- this includes the 1950 MGM movie.

And, quite honestly, I feel satisfyingly spoiled by Redtwist Theatre's intimate, heartbreaking and darkly humorous production, now playing through September 2. [September 16]

Redtwist's cozy storefront space seats only about 50, yet set designer Henry Behel manages to capture both the trapped, claustrophobic nature of the Wingfield's St. Louis flat as well as the dreamy, suspended-in-time tone Williams' so carefully, yet bluntly, establishes in Tom's up-front monologue. Quite brilliantly, Behel uses a good chunk of Redtwist's limited space to provide distance between the main action and a giant mural of the family patriarch, who abandoned his family 16 years ago and left them reeling with regret and anger. His smiling, silent -- nearly smirking -- visage perpetually veers at the action from a removed distance -- a symbol that some might find heavy handed, but I found chilling.

Working hardest to preserve the future of the Wingfield family is Amanda, a quintessential faded southern belle who frequently escapes to the past, citing the day she once courted 17 gentleman callers with unapologetic glee. But she's equally obsessed with the future -- particularly the future of her painfully shy and moderately handicapped daughter, Laura. Redtwist ensemble member Jacqueline Grandt brings a Blanche Devereaux-esque quality to Amanda. You can clearly see the once vivacious woman underneath the perpetually furrowed brow, indicating a woman whose over-rehearsed charms mask her deep anxiety. Her pragmatic mind is always thinking, thinking, thinking. She only wants to do right by her children, even if it means hen pecking them until they succumb or flee. It's a wonderfully effective performance that provides the engine for the rest of the play.

Sarah Mayhan (a waif-like actress, not unlike Laura's fragile glass animals) captures Laura's crushed spirit so well, it's almost painful to watch. Her desire to please her mother, while knowing full well that she can't, makes for one of the most heartbreaking relationships in modern drama. The only person she can open up to is her brother, Tom (the equally high-strung and bird-like Ryan Heindl), and he's already one foot out the door, ready to chase his own dreams rather than have them crushed by his overbearing mother.

And, just when things can't look any worse, enter the gentleman caller (the charming Chris Daley), who is, as suspected, too good to be true.

Director Josh Altman certainly knows his way around a Williams play, with great credit given to casting and Redtwist's production team. This Menagerie will haunt me for quite a while.

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Jacqueline Grandt | Performer of the week

Posted by Oliver Sava

Tennessee Williams has written some of the juiciest female roles in theater, and The Glass Menagerie’s Amanda Wingfield is one of his most emotionally riveting characters. Playing the desperate single mother, Jeff Award-winning Redtwist company member Jacqueline Grandt gives a stirring performance as Amanda tries to find happiness for herself and her two miserable adult children. Raised in Lansing, Michigan, Grandt began performing on stage as a child, continuing through high school and community college before attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Since moving to Chicago in 1996, she’s made Redtwist her artistic home, working with the intimate storefront theater for the last seven years. Grandt talks to us about how she became involved with the company, her past experience with Tennessee Williams, and what the “little red twist” is in this production of The Glass Menagerie.

How did you first get involved with Redtwist?

[Redtwist artistic director] Michael [Colucci] had put an ad in the Reader, or maybe in Performink, and it was for Broken Glass seven years ago. I answered the ad and I went down there and auditioned, and felt pretty good about the audition. Sometimes you feel good, sometimes you don't, so I felt pretty good about it and I was very hopeful because it was a phenomenal role. A couple days later he called me and offered me the role and I said yes, and it's really kind of cute and funny, because both Michael and I still have the letter that I sent with my headshot all those years ago. So it was a pretty special beginning for me, and it was a play that Michael had done before, although he's directing it this time, and he and [Redtwist managing director] Jan [Ellen Graves] had met and ultimately got married because they met in that show, so that show just has a special place in the heart of me and Michael and Jan and Redtwist.  

How soon after that did you become a company member?  

I believe it was the following year that I actually became a company member with them, and that was back when it was Actors Workshop Theatre as well. But the following year, I think maybe I did Proof. I can't remember, to be honest with you. We've always gotten along wonderfully and had the same drive and ambitions for the theater and I wanted to be part of that. And fortunately they wanted me to be part of that [laughs].  

What do you appreciate about having Redtwist as an artistic home, both as a community of other actors and as a theater space in the Edgewater neighborhood?

Redtwist has such a different feel as a theater. I've worked in big theaters and I've also worked in small theaters, but I will tell you there is nothing like doing a show at Redtwist. And so often when they do their shows they have audience seating right on the stage, pretty much. When you're doing a role at that theater you can breathe with the person who's in the audience. That right there is truly a different experience, and every time new actors come in I always say "now just be very prepared for the audience to be right on top of you, because they can see you blink." So one thing I’ve always truly loved about Redtwist is that intimacy, and I think the audience just eats it up. They absolutely love being part of it and intruding on someone's life on stage and that's very exciting. But Redtwist has been definitely the springboard for me in Chicago and Michael has been unbelievably great to me in the roles that he has offered me over the years and I could never thank him enough. And I thank him all the time [laughs], because as an actor you always have to find that one person out there who believes in your talent and who believes in you. Once you find that person it's like something clicks and then everything just flows and it's really wonderful. I'm so appreciative.  

What is your history with The Glass Menagerie? Did you read it as a budding actor? 

You know, I read it a very long time ago in school. I've always been a Tennessee Williams fan just because he's fabulous, and then when I had the opportunity to go and do Streetcar [Named Desire] in Birmingham, Alabama, I jumped at that. I was Stella, and it was just absolutely wonderful experience. Redtwist has not done Tennessee Williams before, and Josh Altman, the director, he and Michael had discussed [Glass Menagerie] and talked about it, and then when they decided to do it and talk to me about doing it, it was very exciting. It had been so long since I'd read the script, and I pulled it out and I read it and I said "Wow, this is just—it's fabulous." Coming off of last year and doing Bug and just the complete reversal of type of character and everything, it was so exciting to come in and do Glass Menagerie because of the difference.   

How did you work with the cast and your director to create that strong family dynamic in the Wingfield household? 

Josh was absolutely wonderful during the rehearsal process. And we rehearsed for a good six weeks, which is a long time actually; it's a little longer than normal. But he really wanted to delve into each character as we were up on our feet and as we were interacting with one another. It came about slowly, but I think that was so necessary with these characters because there is so much animosity between them, and it's pivotal to find the moments that they really love each other and really care about each other, and then the explosiveness of the moments when they fight so horribly and so terribly. So in finding that, you just have to find that true, deep-down love for one another, even as people out on that stage, not just actors and not just characters. You really find a camaraderie, and this is a really special cast. They're so young to me!  

Were there any big challenges taking on the role of Amanda?

It was a very big challenge for me. I've never been a mother. I'm a stepmother, but I've never been a mother, I've never raised children. My own mother and I are extremely close, she's one of my best friends. So to find Amanda was very challenging to me and I've heard from different people that some of the shows that they've seen of Glass Menagerie, Amanda was much harsher and meaner and I just took a different take on her. I really read a lot of the italics that Tennessee Williams wrote and I just felt that so much of who she was came out of the love she had for her children, and I mean there's a level of selfishness as well because we all want our loved ones to succeed. I think I took this role and I just wanted to make her a little different than others have in the past and just find that really special warmth that she truly had with her children.

I really like Redtwist's mission statement: “To do white hot drama, in a tiny black box, with a little red twist." What do you think is the "little red twist" with this production of The Glass Menagerie?

I think the little red twist on this… let me think here. I know my little red twist was pretty much what I just explained as far as my creation of Amanda, but I also think they took a chance in hiring Ryan [Heindl] because he doesn't look like the average Tom, he doesn't act like the average Tom, and he created an amazing, amazing Tom. He's a small man who puts out an immense amount of passion and love and care every time he steps onto that stage, and every time I look into his eyes on that stage, I can see a Tom that just has the passion that I think that character really had. I think that when Josh and Michael decided to hire Ryan they saw that in his audition and it really came out strongly with him. Most especially Ryan, and Chris [Daley] and Sarah [Mayhan] of course are wonderful in it as well. But I think the little red twist that they really put forth was the character of Tom and hiring Ryan.

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