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Something old, something new

October 6, 2011

It should come as no surprise that I have a great love of the theatre. Although a big fan of the classics, I also find that experiencing new work can be as stimulating as revisiting the tried and true, and this week turned out to be a wonderful example of both.

The Forestburgh Theatre Arts Center (FTAC) is currently continuing its mission to engage new audiences (with an emphasis on students) in plays that have stood the test of time. Last year’s highly successful tour of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” helped spark renewed interest in The Bard, and the FTAC has triumphed (IMHO) once again, with a fresh take on Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.”

I was conflicted regarding the concept of the one-act, 80-minute version. Old enough (blessing or curse?) to have actually met Williams before his death in 1983, I consider myself “old school” when it comes to adaptations of the masters, but have more or less surrendered myself to the concept of attracting new fans, regardless of method.

Like many of Williams’ most popular works, “Menagerie” addresses universal themes. Director Dana Martin said, “The struggles of these characters are real and startlingly contemporary, so we are letting our own young voices tell this story in a way that this generation of young people can recognize and understand.”

Open mind in tow, I allowed this new version to wash over me, while keeping a watchful eye on the younger set. I stopped a few of them on the way out. Twelve-year-old Rebecca Bass and 11-year-old Mandra Ranulu were excited after the show, and happy to answer a question or two.

When asked if the play inspired curiosity about Tennessee Williams, the answer was an emphatic “yes!” and both girls indicated that they not only wanted to read the entire play, but would be interested in checking out more of the Williams’ extensive (“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” “A Streetcar named Desire”) catalog. It was then that I grasped that some of the material might have been a little “adult” in nature without the cuts that had been made, and more fully understood the company’s rationale.

Sara and Jaclynn Sorensen (ages 11 and 14, respectively) were also impressed, and had no clue that the play was originally set in a different era, causing me to again appreciate the updating, which enables the youngsters to more readily identify. I left the theatre encouraged that with help from organizations like FTAC, new generations will be exposed to the theatre and discover a love of their own. Bravo!