Through a glass darkly


By David Vining
Directed by David Vining
Cagey Productions
Review by Frank Episale

Cracked grew out of a workshop production called The Last Menagerie, a contemporary reimagining and deconstruction of The Glass Menagerie. While borrowing from the basic structure and plot of the Tennessee Williams play, Cracked has a more traditional and self-contained frame. Here, the lead actor does not talk to the audience about the nature of drama and memory; as Jack confronts his literally haunting memories and is forced to question his sanity, the fourth wall remains relatively intact.

As the show opens, Jack stands before his parole board after ten years in prison on drug charges. (The title is a play on both The Glass Menagerie and Jack’s drug of choice.) Released into the custody of his family, he is forced to return home to them, not having seen them since before he was imprisoned. The primary metaphors in play here are home-as-prison and memory-as-ghosts. When Jack arrives home before his sister Emily, he breaks into his childhood home to wait for her to arrive. The furniture is covered with shroud-like cloths, and a trunk of his possessions sits center-stage. Unsettled by his surroundings and his circumstances, Jack sets about reacquainting himself with his past. He finds a tape-recorder, apparently his primary means of self-expression, and listens to some old diary-like entries. Soon, he begins recording new ones.

David Vining’s staging was elegant and effectively unsettling, with actors appearing and disappearing from beneath the shrouds with startling, magician-like timing. The actors performed well too, particularly Karen Grenke as Emily. She maintained precise and stylized movement while remaining the emotional center of the play, the most sympathetic character. The distortions meant to indicate her as memory never overshadowed her role as a wounded and vulnerable woman. Andrew Hurley’s Jack was an effectively drawn portrait of guilt and resentment.

As a play, though, Cracked doesn’t quite stand on its own. The relentless, humorless melodrama favored by Tennessee Williams is difficult to pull off without his poetry. The poetry here was all in the staging, not in the words, and the modest 80-minute running time began to feel too long well before events came to a head. Effectively jarring moments (like Jack’s realization that memory is not reliable, that the things he is seeing are not real) are undermined by questions left unanswered. Are Jack’s visions of events he was not witness to false memories or the ghosts of moments past? How can he be confident that his mother has died if he knows he can’t be remembering what he is seeing? Why does one hit from his pipe kill a healthy man in his early 30s?

Much hard work and invention went into this production and there was undeniable beauty onstage. The foundation of the evening, though, was weak, and while memory will preserve moments and performances, the text itself is already on its way to being forgotten.

Also featuring Glen Brackenridge, Seana Lee Wyman, and the voice of John Grace. Set design, Micky Small; costume design, Susan Barras; lighting design, Nini Hu; composer, Scott Davis.

 Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting: 1/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2001 Frank Episale