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    Jeanine Serralles and Saxon Palmer in The Glass Cage in The Glass Cage
    Photo by Richard Termine
    Jeanine Serralles and Saxon Palmer in "The Glass Cage"

    Through the Looking Glass

    The Mint Theater once again helps rescue an endangered play from the dustbin of obscurity, this time J.B. Priestley's all-but-forgotten, "The Glass Cage."


    When a play falls into obscurity, there's often a good reason. In the case of J.B. Priestley's "The Glass Cage," which went unperformed for fifty years, it's hard to imagine what those reasons might be. The work, written in 1956 and set in 1906 Toronto, is lively and current. It was revived to critical acclaim at the Royal Theater, Northampton in 2007, and now, it's seeing its U.S. premiere with the Mint Theater Company. It's the story of the McBanes, a bible-thumping, fusty family hiding long-held secrets. When three siblings, the children of the wildest McBane brother and a Native American woman, return to the fold to seek reparations, the fragile barriers between the McBanes and the perilous world outside are torn down.

    Company: Mint Theater Company.
    Written by: J.B. Priestley.
    Directed by: Lou Jacob.
    Cast: Gerry Bamman, Jack Wetherall, Robin Moseley, Sandra Struthers-Clerc, Chad Hoeppner, Fiana Toibin, Chet Carlin, Jeanine Serralles, Saxon Palmer, Aaron Krohn.
    Sound design by: Lindsay Jones.
    Set design by: Roger Hanna.
    Costumes by: Camille Assaf.
    Lighting design by: Marcus Doshi.
    Production stage manager: Brian Maschka.
    Properties design by: Deborah Gaouette.
    Assistant Stage Manager: Andrea Jo Martin.

    Related links: Official site
    Mint Theater
    311 West 43rd St., 5th floor
    Sept. 4 - Nov. 2, 2008

    As a non-fan of Edwardian period pieces, I was worried that "The Glass Cage" would be two hours and twenty minutes of sheer boredom. I couldn't have been more wrong. The production is riveting, suspenseful, fast-paced and fun. More surprisingly, it lured me into its historical moment. Priestley's script, written for specifically for the Crest Theater Company in Toronto, is both a universal study of family dynamics and a profound examination of the tension between Victorian mores and the modern spirit. It is also an intriguing look at issues of morality and social class. I was absorbed in the McBanes's world.

    The Crest Theater, Canada's first theater company with its own home, was run by the Davis brothers and their sister, Barbara Chilcott, who were all also actors. Priestley was inspired by watching this darkly good-looking trio make their entrance at a party. He decided to write them a play that would allow their presence to shine.

    Priestley's script ... is both a universal study of family dynamics and a profound examination of the tension between Victorian mores and the modern spirit. It is also an intriguing look at issues of morality and social class.  

    Indeed, the moment when the three mysterious siblings enter the McBane home is startling. They're pretending to be shy, but the disruptive wilderness that sweeps dangerously into the stodgy living room with their mere presence is palpable. Later, when the rest of the family is praying, the siblings exchange glances over their bowed heads. There's something exhilarating about the sense of impending menace.

    Roger Hanna's innovative set uses lights and pipes to create a "glass cage" around the family's living room, giving a sense of the frightening, malicious and complicated world outside. The set, the performances, and director Lou Jacob's way of pacing the action kept me from ever being pulled out of the play. The script, too, works in layers. If the three siblings — played with superb intensity by Jeanine Serralles, Saxon Palmer and Aaron Krohn — are not what they first appear to be, neither are the more pious McBanes, safe in their relatively grand home. "The Glass Cage" ends up being much more interesting than a broad, black-and-white morality study. Every character has a complex relationship to the others. The seemingly innocent show their dark sides, and the seemingly sinful hide a sweet fragility and vulnerability.

      The production is riveting, suspenseful, fast-paced and fun.
    "The Glass Cage" is a rarity: a really good story that was lost to history for half a century. Unlike the average lost play, it's highly worth reviving.

    SEPTEMBER 28, 2008

    Reader comments on The Glass Cage:

  • Thanks for the review!   from Mark De Rocco, Oct 19, 2008

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