It’s a summer weekend in the Deep South, and the DuBois offspring have returned to Belle Reve, the plantation home of their dysfunctional childhood, to welcome back patriarch Big Daddy DuBois from his stay at the local hospital. There’s eldest daughter (and family loony) Blanche, married to the uncouth but undeniably sexy Stanley Kowalski.  Middle child Brick, a cipher of a man if there ever was one, is wedded to the sultry Maggie, appropriately nicknamed “The Cat.”  Youngest child Laura suffers from a bad limp (and bad hair.)  Along with family matriarch Big Amanda DuBois and narrator/gentleman caller Mitch O’Connor, the DuBois children have assembled to await Big Daddy’s doctor’s verdict. Does the master of Belle Reve have cancer, or is it merely a spastic colon?

What kind of Tennessee Williams heaven (or hell) is this?

The answer is—it’s The Glass Mendacity, the hilarious, spot-on Williams spoof which combines the characters and plot threads of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Glass Menagerie into one outrageous soufflé.

The brainchild of Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper, Maureen Morley, and Tim Willmorth, The Glass Mendacity has now made its way to Los Angeles for its West Coast Premiere in a production that is a must-see for Tennessee Williams fans with a sense of humor. Those with a stick up their rear ends may remain stone-faced, and those completely unfamiliar with the Williams oeuvre may miss a good number of the jokes, but for Tennessee aficionados like this reviewer, The Glass Mendacity is likely to prove irresistible.

The playwrights would seem to have taken as their inspiration those great Carol Burnett Show movie spoofs (remember Scarlett O’Hara’s made-from-curtains-and-curtain-rod gown?), and like the Burnett show sketches, The Glass Mendacity gets its laughs by sticking close to its source material(s).


The characters are instantly recognizable.

There’s Big Daddy (Quincy Miller), who beats his slaves (sorry, make that field hands) and complains that “this whole family crawls around in lust, greed, and weird behavioral traits.”  Those who recall the original Big Daddy’s rants on mendacity will surely get a kick out of this Big Daddy’s complaint that “It’s mendacity! Worse than that it’s Shawn Cassidy!” upon hearing Cassidy’s ‘70s hit “Da Do Run Run” coming from daughter Laura’s bedroom.

Big Momma Amanda (Stephanie Strand) is every bit as interested in reminiscing about the gentlemen callers she received during her girlhood as she is in Big Daddy’s health.  (The number of gentleman callers keeps getting larger and larger each time she tells her tale.)  Big Momma can’t help worrying about her youngest child, so rather than see poor Laura keep accidentally slitting her wrists on the sharp point of her pet glass unicorn’s horn, Big Momma has replaced Laura’s glass menagerie with creatures made of sculpted ice and kept in a handy cooler.

Laura (Strand again) does love her collection of miniature animal figures, if only they didn’t become indistinguishable as they melt. Still every bit as painfully shy as she was when she secretly dropped out of secretarial school four years ago, “Sister Gimp” is bound to be making repeated vomit trips to the little girls’ room once she learns that tonight, at long last, she’ll have her first gentleman caller.

Meanwhile, a love triangle appears to be in the making between Stanley (Joe Dallo), wife Blanche (swing Kristina Haddad), and said gentleman caller Mitch (Kenn Johnson).

If Stanley was ever married to anyone named Stella, it’s not mentioned in The Glass Mendacity, though Laura’s repeated playing of the Starland Vocal Band’s obnoxious hit “Afternoon Delight” does set him to screaming out “Starland! Starland!” in Stanley’s signature “Stelllaaa!” pose. Recalling his courtship of Blanche, Stanley recalls that “she’d give me a hickey for every moth I’d catch and eat.”  (Say what?)

As for Blanche, the aging belle is every bit as crazy (and man-crazy) as ever, though not the world’s best artist.  “I couldn’t draw a pirate to save my life,” she declares.  “But I do draw sailors for some reason.”

Maggie The Cat (Renee Scott) can’t help exuding sex appeal in the succession of J.C. Penney slips she slips in and out of.  (She’s even got a black lace one for funerals.) If only her husband Brick (Elliot Barrymore) were more of a man, Blanche might be satisfied, but her weak, taciturn hubby (“actor” Barrymore is in fact a faceless department store mannequin) seems not at all turned on by Maggie, or by any other woman for that matter. Maggie feels caught between a rock and a hard place, if only she could think of the right synonym to describe her condition. “I feel like a lion on a toaster,” she muses.  “No, that’s not it. Like a gerbil on a hibachi! No, that’s not it.”  Stanley opines that Maggie is “warm and twitchy like a gnat on a warm can of soda.”  No, that’s not it either.

When it turns out that Big Daddy’s ailment is a spastic colon (of the terminal variety), the potential heirs face off in a battle royal for Big D’s fortune.

The above is only a smattering of the laughs which The Glass Mendacity’s creators have managed to come up with—two whole acts’ worth, and while two hours (including intermission) may be a bit long for a spoof Carol Burnett would have managed in a fraction of that time, there’s very little down time from lights up to final curtain.

The cast assembled by the Ark Theatre Company is all-around terrific, and the straighter they play it, the more laughs they get. Johnson’s Mitch has just the right gravitas for Laura’s gentleman caller, Haddad chews scenery with the best of them as nutso Blanche, and Strand is a big-haired riot as Big Momma Amanda.  She is even better as poor, pitiful, painfully shy Laura, the two characters so markedly different that one almost awaits their appearance on stage together.  Dallo has great fun tweaking Brando’s brutish Stanley, as we do in watching him. Barrymore does nothing at all as Brick, but lest we forget, he’s a dummy. Best of all are the delectable Scott, whose voluptuous Maggie’s sex appeal quotient is so high it’s off the Richter scale, and Miller, who despite being decades too young for Big Daddy (and half his girth) creates a performance so real it could transfer to Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, yet so funny that one starts laughing even before Big Daddy’s said his punch line.  Credit director Andrew Crusse for keeping his actors on the same page, and hilarious as all get-out.

Christina Silvoso’s clever set design is divided between Brick and Maggie’s bedroom and the adjoining sitting room, with only a curtain separating them. (A running gag is that the curtain is supposed to be soundproof.)  Jeffrey M. Davis’s fine lighting design directs audience attention right where it should be.  Micheael H. Waid’s costumes (assisted by Amanda Sutton Davis) are character-perfect, from Maggie’s multiple slips to Stanley’s wife beater to Laura’s way-oversized sweater to Mitch’s summer suit. Corwin Evans too deserves kudos for his sound design (and for finding all those ‘70s music tracks).

Mendacity may be a sin, but The Glass Mendacity is sinful only in the number of laughs it provokes.  Way up in Dead Gay Playwrights’ Heaven, Tennessee Williams is surely doubled over in mirth.

Ark Theatre Company, Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
January 2, 2010
Photos: Kristina Haddad

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