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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Virtual ‘The Glass Menagerie’ finely crafted in Oshkosh

Critic At Large

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Theatre and Radio TV Film

The cast of University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Theatre’s production of “The Glass Menagerie” includes, from left, Matthew Peplinski as Tom, Amanda Penkivech as Laura and Ali Basham as Amanda. (UW-Oshkosh Marketing and Communications)

OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – The play was going to done. Along came the coronavirus COVID-19. The play was done anyway in a reshaped way.

Instead of sitting in a theater, the audience sits in front of a screen.

Pros fight cons, cons fight pros, but in its reshaped way the play becomes more personal. The stage is not “there” – some distance from one’s seat – but RIGHT THERE in front of the viewer. Details and nuances can be examined, and the viewer can even turn back time – rewind the screening – to view a glimpse or hear a phrase again.

“The Glass Menagerie” haunts in added ways in a production created by the team of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Theatre and Radio TV Film.

Much has to do with the line, “All at once, my sister touched my shoulder.”

Through one of the characters, playwright Tennessee Williams is speaking. With artistic license, he is writing about his family.

Director Richard Kalinoski, the production creative team and the cast tap into what Tennessee Williams is saying with their own artistic sensitivity.

Tennessee Williams’ sister in the play is Laura. In one word, Laura’s personality is “pale.”

Tennessee Williams is Tom in the play. When he narrates, Tom has poetic touches in observations: “I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” When Tom enters the play as a character, he simmers with frustrations and looks to get out.

Tom looks for hope for his sister in the form of a friend who can help her blossom and escape the suffocating grip of their mother, Amanda, a disillusioned soul of her own creation.

The current production – available online to Dec. 6 – gives reasons why “The Glass Menagerie” endures. The play is theater, it is character, it is drama presented artistically.

Laura (Amanda Penkivech) and her glass menagerie. (UW-Oshkosh Marketing and Communications)

The clothing, the shoes, the music, the props, the furnishings suggest the 1930s. They add character.

The players absorb their characters and shape them beautifully – disturbing and frustrating as they may be at times.

This is a sterling collegiate production, minor technical blips aside.

Ali Basham as Amanda, the mother. (UW-Oshkosh Marketing and Communications)

Ali Basham portrays Amanda as a pile driver – pounding others into the ground with her headstrong know-everythingness.

Amanda Penkivech portrays Laura as a wound – her limping being of leg and of mind.

Matthew Peplinski portrays Tom as a volcano ready to erupt at spit out the pile driver and regretfully leave his sister behind.

Maxwell Benitz portrays The Gentleman Caller as a gentlemanly what-could-have-been future.

The performances speak of Richard Kalinoski’s meticulous direction. The cast is “on.”

Recorded in the black box Experimental Theatre of the Theatre Arts Centre on campus, this production includes a solid, clear aural experience while the players perform in clear face masks. Instead of a standard rectangular stage space, the performance area is split into a balcony, a dining room and a living room in a square setup.

Matthew Peplinski as Tom. (UW-Oshkosh Marketing and Commuications).

Side notes: Matthew Peplinski also has a major role in the concurrent run of UW-Oshkosh Theatre’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” playing Spike. Ali Basham and Maxwell Benitz starred in UW-Oshkosh’s pre-pandemic live production of Richard Kalinoski’s “Beast on the Moon.”

Extra side note: Persona Theatre on the island of Cyprus will present 11 in-person performances of Richard Kalinoski’s “Beast on the Moon.” Dec. 4 to 27. How many plays with Wisconsin roots have been done on Cyprus? “Beast on the Moon” has been translated into 19 languages and has been performed in at least 20 countries.

“The Glass Menagerie’ is part of UW-Oshkosh Theatre’s season with the umbrella title of “Love, Guilt and Other Family Values.”

Much imagination is at play. It’s what universities are for, hey?

***

Creative: Playwright – Tennessee William; director – Richard Kalinoski; producers – Justine Stokes and John Zarbano; stage manager – Jensen MacKenzie; costume designer – Eve Funnell; lighting design – Mark Spitzer; scenic design – Daniel Hobbs; sound design – Nathaniel Wolkoff; technical director – Mark Spitzer; props – G Krenke, Daria Chirhart; TV Video: technical producer – Pete Abraham; engineer – Tyler Egnarski; director – Rachel Bartelme; technical director – Billy Piotrowski; audio and remote camera – Damon Hoffman

Cast

Laura – Amanda Penkivech

Tom – Matthew Peplinski

Jim – Maxwell Benitz

Amanda – Ali Basham

Running time: One hour, 52 minutes

Note: The pay-to-view ticket for “The Glass Menagerie” also is good for “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” The plays are available to Dec. 6.

Info: https://uwosh.edu/theatre/box-office/.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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