Imagine if you could re-visit a tragedy and restore the hope; take away the shadows of doubt, the shudders of despair. Imagine if you could re-visit shabby rooms, where stale air does little but circulate the layers of dust and melancholy, and breath in fresh life imbued with optimism and energy.
Imagine if you could see a classic play such as Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie from a whole other persective, one of possibility, where the “bitter” of bitter-sweet is removed and all that is left is a revving of the heart at what is yet to come. The Pretty Trap currently playing at The Acorn Theatre (Theatre Row) does just that. Written by Williams as one of the earlier drafts of Menagerie it is a sparkling one-act starring Katharine Houghton as the matriarch Amanda Wingfield.
It’s nice to get a chance to visit with a family we think we know so well, put in a situation we think we understand, and see another experience emerge. Under Antony Marsellis’ direction this tightly staged piece brings us into the family of the Wingfields – aging southern belle Amanda; shy, flighty, distraught Laura (Nisi Sturgis) who is terrified of the evening about to unfold; likeable, creative, not-too-ambitious brother Tom (Loren Dunn); and the reason for the evening’s excitement: the “gentleman caller” – charming go-getter Jim (Robert Eli).
What is meant to appear as nothing more than a dinner is really Amanda’s scheming intentions to have Laura set as the pretty trap for Jim. (“All pretty girls are traps. And men expect them to be.” she tutors her skittish daughter as they await the caller’s arrival.) It is obvious that with Laura’s temperament she is unfit for work (although she’s gone to business school) and with her mother getting older and her father long gone (save for the photo which looms large in the living room) her remaining choices are either to become the spinster aunt living off the charity of her brother (if and when he himself finds his own way in the world) or find herself a husband.
All the same notes of Menagerie are here – but rearranged and uptempo so that the song is very different … and how it sets your internal toe to tapping depends strongly on how cleanly you can delineate between what you know of this family, and what you want to believe of this particular melody. Taken at face value you’ll find yourself beguiled by this one act that is sweet, charming, magical, and yes … hopeful.
The entire cast is strong and each actor in turn gets their moment to shine; particularly Nisi Sturgis and Robert Eli as the gently tentative couple who share sly romantic moments in the dark and sweetly begin a romantic evolution; one that shows no foreshadowing of the ache that comes to bear in Menagerie. It is particularly satisfying to watch Sturgis take Laura from terrified to tentative to triumphant as she opens up her world to this new man and allows him to see what she sees, to hold what she holds, to know what she knows.
It is Katharine Houghton, however, as the complex Amanda who sets the tone, draws the audience in, and lays the foundation for the entire play. Her incessant chattering about seemingly nothing is actually a finely woven spider’s web of intricately devised manipulation, and in Ms. Houghton’s delivery the smooth layering and complexity is almost imperceptible – a brilliant slight of hand that is almost unbelievably subtle but leaves the audiences with a wealth of knowledge upon which to draw in order to understand this family.
All of this takes place in Ray Klausen’s two-room set which is a beautiful combination of faded, delicate and fragile pieces, gently worn and all in varying shades of pink (or memories of pink) which at any given moment can remind us of Amanda’s faded blush of youth (“I was as pretty as Laura … prettier even, if you can believe it” she says often) or Laura’s deep stain of embarrassment as she is forced to move from her world of safe imagination to the world of real men … with real intentions.
Overall The Pretty Trap is a satisfying, beautifully done piece which is a refreshing night for those who would love to see a “what if” moment retold with a happier ending.
~~~The New York Premiere of Williams’ one-act version of The Glass Menagerie The Pretty Trap
directed by Antony Marsellis August 2 – August 21, 2011 . The Acorn Theatre Theatre Row 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Aves.)
.$66.25 Tickets (click here to purchase online) By phone: Call Telecharge at 212-239-6200 800-432-7250
.In person: Theatre Row Box Office 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th & 10th Aves.)