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DHS puts on a dream of a play: ‘Glass Menagerie’

“We’re in Farmington looking for glass figurines.”

Kristin Winchester, director of the Durango High School drama program, cheerfully reported about her search Saturday for a key set of props. All seemed well. Then on Sunday, Winchester sent news of an unexpected dilemma.

“We had a little freak-out today,” she said. Five days to opening night, and the light board wouldn’t turn on.

“We had to re-do all of our programming,” Winchester said. “Not fun.”

Coming back after a holiday break has added to the pressure. Winchester and company have been working steadily for months to stage one of America’s classic dramas, “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams.

The students specifically requested this play, she said. The company also made an early decision not to stage it on the sprawling DHS stage.

“We’re creating a different kind of experience for the actors and the audience,” Winchester said.

Instead of the broad, horizontal performance space used so well for musicals or large-cast plays, “Menagerie” will be performed on stage, but surrounded by the audience.

“It will be a thrust stage with the audience on three sides,” Winchester said. “As a result, we only have 150 seats, so people need to get their reservations in right away.”

The unusual configuration may be a perfect solution to this small-scale, four-character masterpiece. Completed in 1944, “Menagerie” opened on Broadway in 1945 and was acclaimed as a major work from the beginning. Four films have been made, two for the big screen and two for television, with luminaries such as Gertrude Lawrence, Katharine Hepburn and Joanne Woodward as Amanda, the matriarch of the Wingfield family.

Amanda’s claustrophobic St. Louis apartment displays photos of the husband and father who abandoned the family long ago. She longs for a better life, reminisces about her privileged southern past, and nags, pushes and chastises her two adult children.

She taunts her son, Tom, a resentful breadwinner who works a banal warehouse job and longs for a life of adventure. Instead, he is tethered to his broken family, especially his crippled sister, Laura.

Disabled more by her shyness than her limp, Laura graduated from high school six years ago and lives a fearful, cloistered life. She dotes on her glass-animal collection and her few records.

Only when Amanda presses Tom to bring a gentleman caller to dinner does the familial cauldron boil over.

Winchester has cast “Menagerie” in duplicate. Cast A will perform for Friday’s opening night as well as Saturday’s matinee and the Jan. 18 show. Cast B will perform the evenings of Jan. 12, 17 and 19. I’m going to try and see both casts.

Known as a memory play, the story unfolds as Tom looks back on this painful time of transition in his family’s life.

jreynolds@durangoherald.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.