A unicorn made of glass catches the light. Laura is holding it, but this is not The Glass Menagerie . Gone are Laura’s limp, Tom’s struggle with his identity, and several of the other tragic details that color Tennessee Williams’ touching dream play. In its place is The Pretty Trap . The streamlined one-act, penned prior to its better known cousin, replaces the melancholy with the comedic. Cause Célèbre’s production does a nice job of bringing this piece to life. We quickly locate ourselves in the Wingfield’s household through Ray Klausen’s realistic set. Tennessee Williams spends a great deal of time intricately explaining the physical locations of his plays, and though I value the creativity of scenic designers, I am always happy to see that someone has taken the time to respect the playwright’s wishes. David Toser’s costume design and Bernie Dove’s lighting and sound are also well tuned to the realistic and naturalistic demands of the script. The design supports this world, and the characters seem to belong to a pre-war New Orleans.
However, there is one obvious choice that Director Antony Marsellis has made that gives me pause. Though Katharine Houghton has the charm and the vivacity to play Amanda, she is unfortunately a bit too advanced in age to be undertaking this part. Amanda is an aging southern belle, but in order for us to understand how overbearing Amanda is, we need to be bowled over by her energy. Though Houghton does a fine job, I wish I had been able to see her play this role ten or fifteen years ago.
Whereas The Glass Menagerie is Tom’s play, told from his memory, The Pretty Trap is certainly Amanda’s play. She is the ultimate manipulator, the “witch,” which is something that Houghton cannot quite pull off, as her presence is too gentle. This is more a fault of casting than of anything else, and her performance is still strong.
But it is the scene between The Gentleman Caller (Robert Eli) and Laura (Nisi Sturgis) that stands out in this production. As Sturgis overcomes her shy ways, drawn out of her shell by Eli’s friendly optimism, we watch as Laura has the first real emotionally intimate encounter of her life. But unlike the bittersweet conclusion that normally follows this scene, The Pretty Trap allows us to imagine a happier version of events.
Yet this aspect of The Pretty Trap is also, in my opinion, why the play has not had the lasting impact on audiences that The Glass Menagerie has. The happy version of events is nice to watch, but it does not have the emotional impact of the dramatic version. The arc of The Glass Menagerie tells the story of a family full of people who have convinced themselves that getting a suitor for Laura will solve all of their problems. By the time The Gentleman Caller comes, we are invested in this dream right along with the Wingfields. In The Pretty Trap we do not have time to get attached to Laura or Amanda, to know their hopes and dreams, to understand the stakes; not to mention the fact that Tom (Loren Dunn) is barely given a role in this family event.
We are happy at the end of this Williams play, something that cannot often be said. Perhaps this is because we like to see ending full of potentiality, or perhaps because we like to think of what it could have been like if things had been different from the Wingfield story in our heads. The play looks very much like dreams plus actions, just as The Gentleman Caller and then Amanda herself say. Whichever it is, this is a great chance to see a rarely seen Tennessee Williams work in a good production.