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The Glass Mendacity

by Rich See

I've always depended on the quality of strangeness.
---Blanch Dubois

Tyler Smith
Big Daddy's home from the hospital and while his own children are mentally muddled victims of his overbearing ruthlessness, his son- and daughter-in-law are trying their hardest to inherit the family estate for themselves. Mixing the major characters from Tennessee Williams' most acclaimed plays, Landless Theatre brings the hilariously funny spoof The Glass Mendacity to life at the District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC). Nothing is sacred and everything profane when Maggie the Cat becomes Stanley Kowalski's sister-in-law, and Brick, Laura, and Blanche become siblings in this soap opera-esque parody. It's a dysfunctional group best summed up by Big Daddy himself -- "This whole family crawls around in lust, greed, and weird behavioral traits."

Written and conceived by Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth of Chicago's Illegitimate Players, The Glass Mendacity takes the best and most melodramatic of Tennessee Williams' plays and puts them under a fun house mirror to stretch and warp it to humorous delight. Everything has been mish-mashed -- Big Daddy, Belle Reeve, Menagerie's apartment, Blanche and Stanley from Streetcar, Laura's glass animal collection, Brick and Maggie, the gentleman caller. Alas, no mention is made of Stella, but there is a nod to her when Stanley suddenly bursts out "Starland! Starland!" Like Williams, Morley and Willmorth have a way with the pen and so the memorable lines keep coming at the audience all the way up to the finale where, much like Williams' poetic prose, the lights simply dim when the drama is over.

To add to the mayhem and comedy, director Andrew Lloyd Baughman has done some gender bending casting as a nod to Williams' conscious or unconscious perusal of sexuality and gender in American society. His young company puts their all into this production with no one seemingly holding back. Situated in DCAC's small blackbox space, the set is obviously minimal, but any lack of staging is made up for ten times over by the witty and pointed dialogue.

Tyler Smith as nymphomaniac Blanche Dubois brings a Carol Burnet sense of comedy while innocently delivering lines like "I couldn't draw a pirate to save my life. But I do draw sailors for some reason." When Blanche finally has her silent scream breakdown, it's one of the most hilarious moments in the play. Patricia Penn makes the most of Stanley Kowalski's machismo and shows its silliness with lines like "She'd give me a hickey for every moth I'd catch and eat." While Julia Bilek Hyland's Big Daddy alternates between manly gusto and parental annoyance spewing lines like "It's mendacity! Worse than that it's Shawn Cassidy!" As for Brick Dubois, one needs to see in order to appreciate Stuf N. D'Cloth's interpretation of the leather vested, brooding, sexually confused son.

Matt Baughman as "Big Momma" Amanda Dubois shines most when talking about his/her various suitors, especially in a humorous "Battle of the Gentlemen Callers" with daughter Blanche. Katherine Lawrence takes victimhood to a new level with the limping, vomiting, socially anxious Laura. The scene between her and Stanley over the giraffe from her animal collection is memorable. Jill Vanderweit as gentleman caller Mitch O'Connor is a mix of sensitivity and self-involvement -- in love with Blanche and totally unaware of Laura. And Ally Jenkins as Maggie the Cat prowls around the stage in alternating slips while trying to describe her inner turmoil: "I feel like...a gerbil on a hot iron. No that's not it..."

If this first show is any promise, Landless Theatre has a fun-filled 2004-2005 season in the works. Seemingly picking up where Cherry Red Productions has left off, they've combined art and inanity into a comedy fest they are marketing as "Tennessee Williams Exploited." It's a shame the Kennedy Center never returned their call...

The Glass Mendacity
by Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth
Directed by Andrew Lloyd Baughman
with Tyler Smith, Patricia Penn, Julia Bilek Hyland, Matt Baughman, Katherine Lawrence, Jill Vanderweit, Ally Jenkins, Stuf N. D'Cloth
Sound and Light Design: Dean Wright
Running Time: 1 hours and 40 minutes with 1 intermission
A production of Landless Theatre
DCAC, 2438 18th Street NW, Washington, DC
Telephone: 202-462-7833
FRI - SAT @10; $15
Opening 08/06/04, closing 08/28/04
Reviewed by Rich See based on 08/06/04 performance
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