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Hazel-Marie Werfel plays the delicate Laura Wingfield, and Lisa-Marie Newton plays Amanda Wingfield, in Collaborative Theatre Project's production of "The Glass Menagerie," opening Friday, Jan. 18. Photo by Dinah Greenfield

'Glass Menagerie' kicks off CTP's 2019 season

“I will speak truth as I see it, without concealment or evasion, and with a fearless unashamed frontal assault upon life.” — Tennessee Williams

When “The Glass Menagerie” came to Broadway in 1944, it was Williams’ first big success. He called it a “memory play,” one that reflected his own unhappy family background. Delicate and shadowy, “The Glass Menagerie” became a poignant classic of American theater, and it is Collaborative Theatre Project’s first offering of its 2019 season.

“We’re trying to bring new shows and new musicals to the Rogue Valley that haven’t been done here before while throwing in some classics that haven’t been seen in a while,” says assistant director Susan Aversa-Orrego.

“The Glass Menagerie” previews Thursday, Jan. 17, opens Friday, Jan. 18, and runs through Sunday, Feb. 10, at CTP, 555 Medford Center, Medford. An opening night gala will be at 6:45 p.m. Friday, and tickets include appetizers and beverages. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15 for the preview. All other tickets are $25, $20 for seniors and students, and $18 for age 17 and younger. Tickets and information are available at ctpmedford.org, by calling 541-779-1055 or at the box office. Group rates are available.

Lisa-Marie Newton plays Amanda Wingfield, an aging Southern belle who regales her children with talk of her genteel upbringing; Christian Mengel plays Tom, the son whose job at a shoe factory supports the family; and Hazel-Marie Werfel plays the delicate Laura, whose painful shyness is compounded by a leg brace. When Amanda realizes Laura is incapable of completing a business college course she enrolled her daughter in, she becomes determined to find her daughter the right husband. Russell Lloyd directs.

“The play itself is a confession, Lloyd says. “What we’re seeing is in Tom’s memory. It’s metaphorical and somewhat autobiographical. It’s a snapshot of a particular familial situation that had its bumps and issues and how they all survived through it, if they did at all. It’s very interpersonal, and it’s very common to what people do in their lives ... and to each other.”

The characters are memorable. Tom, a frustrated writer, yearns to break out and find adventure on the high seas. Laura, Tom’s sister, is crippled more emotionally than physically. She’s a delicate beauty so vulnerable the world outside crushes her and is now totally isolated. She finds solace in her collection of fragile, glass animals.

Amanda, Tom’s mother, feisty and delusional, rules the family.

“She has that inbred pride and strength that keeps her hoping for her children and herself,” Lloyd says. “That’s her constant struggle. This family has love. They want to love, and they do. Then there is the gentleman caller. He is that energetic, hopeful, positive guy. He embodies what he hopes for in the future. Whereas the rest of them, they may have lost hope. They’re just surviving. Sometimes love is not enough.”

William’s production notes for “The Glass Menagerie” stated “Expressionism and all other unconventional techniques in drama have only one valid aim, and that is a closer approach to truth.”

“It’s memory,” Lloyd says. “It’s not realistic in a sense. It’s not sanitized. It’s very brutal. It offers a wide range that an actor can go, and how a story can be told. Mixed in with that, the language is rich with poetry.”

Aversa-Oreggo says this year, CTP will focus a lot more on women and the roles women have in theater.

“Being involved in the theater, as a woman, I really like to see shows that have a strong female presence,” she says.

CTPs first three shows in 2019 — “The Glass Menagerie,” “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and “The Bridges of Madison County” — have substantial roles for women.

Laura Gunderson’s “The Silent Sky” follows. It’s about the first female astronomers at the turn of last century. They were brilliant mathematicians, but they weren’t allowed to use the telescopes. Telescopes were only used by men.

“That’s a wonderful new work, Aversa-Oreggo says. “It’s witty, intelligent and thought-provoking.”

The next is “Death Takes a Holiday,” based on a 1934 film that was redone as the 1998 film, “Meet Joe Black,” with Brad Pitt. Death falls in love, and decides that this beautiful young woman, who should have died in a car accident, is not ready to go to the afterlife.

“It’s clever, warm-hearted, and the music is lovely, Aversa-Oreggo says. “It’s our summer musical. After that, there will be ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ by Brian Friel. He’s a Northern Ireland playwright. His work is really distinct and very poetic. It’s a lovely story of family dynamics.”

“The Haunting of Hill House” follows next. There is a Netflix series of the same name. However, this is a new script based on the novel.

“The Snow Queen” will end the season. It is being brought back by popular demand.

There is an impressive lineup of directors, including: Lloyd, Daniel Sessions Stephens, Todd Nielsen, Rick Robinson and Aversa-Orrego.

“Basically, our goal is to do theater that is intriguing, thought-provoking, and, with the new shows, just a little bit different.”

Evalyn Hansen is a writer based in Ashland. Reach her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com. Visit her blog: ashlandtheater.net.

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