The area's newest theater has its first production up and running, and if it's not an auspicious beginning it's certainly a promising one.
Two Chairs Theatre Company wants to concentrate on the classic American plays of the mid-20th century. It's starting with one of the best, Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie." It runs through this weekend at the Players Theatre in Sarasota.
Director (and Two Chairs founder) Elliott Raines and his cast make some non-standard choices, and some of them take a while to get used to. But in the end the play packs a punch, though maybe not a knockout.
Dylan Jones plays Tom, the narrator and the only male member of the Wingfield family. He works in a numbing factory job and lives a stultifying life with his oppressive and delusional mother and his emotionally damaged older sister.
It's the opening monologue -- one of the most famous in American theater history -- by Tom that sets the mood for the play, and Jones delivers it as if he were a master of ceremonies. It's not the somber, reflective opening the play usually gets. It's a bit jarring for people who know the play, but it makes sense. Jones goes unconvincingly over the top a time or two during the evening, but most of the time the touch of bombast he brings to the normally low-key role works.
Lynne Doyle's performance as Amanda seems to channel Katherine Hepburn, who played the role in a famous 1973 television production. Doyle's performance is her own, not an imitation, and she earned the strongest ovation after Thursday's performance. But the quavering voice and some of her physical choices make it impossible to avoid thinking about Hepburn.
Lauren Ward seems unnaturally fragile at first -- to the point where she's not sympathetic enough -- but her gradual emergence, followed by her crushing heartbreak at the play's end, deliver the most powerful moments in the play.
Josh Brin is straightforward, and likeable but just unctuous enough, as the Gentleman Caller.
The set is odd. The dining room where a key scene in Act Two takes place is set so far back on the stage that it's hard to see, and feels physically and emotionally remote. (No set designer or costume designer is credited in the program.)
But there's a wonderfully well-executed sound design by Seth Berry and fine, subdued lighting by Bill Najmy.
"The Glass Menagerie" is such a beautiful play that even a bad production can be poignant and powerful. The Two Chairs production is far from bad. It feels a bit unfocused and lacks the dreamlike quality that most stagings of this play strive for, but at its best moments it's elegant and emotionally devastating.
Details: Through Oct. 12, The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $25-$30. Information: 941-365-2494, theplayers.org.
Marty Clear, features write/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.