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Illuminating the Complex Facets of ‘Glass Menagerie’

Thanks to a staging of extraordinary delicacy and insight at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” comes across like a familiar acquaintance glimpsed in a fresh light, forcing us to realize how much we’ve taken him for granted.

There’s not a wasted moment in Williams’ eloquent autobiographical portrait of flawed characters, life’s turning points, and tragedy inflicted through ignorance. Director Heidi Helen Davis illuminates these complex facets with breathtaking clarity--and a few surprises along the way.

Always respectful to the text, Davis’ innovations range from subtle visual embellishments to her bold splitting of Tom, Williams’ alter ego, into two separate characters--the narrator (James Lefebvre) who remains onstage, unobtrusively reacting to his story, and the younger self (Brian Morri) who figures in his re-enacted memories.

It’s an elegant solution to the usually insurmountable dilemma of casting a single Tom--not only are the two actors convincingly appropriate to their stages of life, but they even look alike.

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As Tom’s fragile, painfully introverted sister, Melora Marshall opens the door to Laura’s rich, inner world and registers every emotional bruise with heartbreaking lack of defense. Jim Pirri, an outgoing and magnetic presence, nails the role of the congenial “gentleman caller” who unthinkingly tramples on her romantic illusions.

With sensitivity and restraint, Ellen Geer grounds the domineering mother Amanda in a desperation to help Laura that keeps her sympathetic despite the damage she inflicts. A sadly ironic figure, she wonders why her children can’t be normal people--heedless that the answer lies in her own overbearing nature.

Complementing these powerful portrayals are the carefully rendered lyrical cadences of Williams’ language, fusing speech with poetry in the ascension of wounded souls.

* “The Glass Menagerie,” Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga . Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. (Saturdays , 3 p.m. on Aug. 20 & 27). Ends Sept. 18. $12.50. (310) 455-3723. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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