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'The Glass Menagerie:' 'The play is memory'

"The Glass Menagerie" stars Melissa Essary as Laura Wingfield, Cody Daniel as The Gentleman Caller, Leslie Dawson Bivens as Amanda Wingfield and David Maxedon as Tom Wingfield.

For the Daily Corinthian

"The play is memory."

The opening monologue of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" is one audiences should keep in mind during the upcoming production presented by Corinth Theatre-Arts.

The play is set for May 4-6 and 11-13 at the Crossroads Playhouse. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for students.

Williams found his first success after premiering "The Glass Menagerie" in 1944.

The show has remained a staple of the theatre, from community theatre stages to Broadway, including a recent revival that earned Sally Field a Tony nomination.

The story has strong references to Williams' own life, featuring representations of himself in the narrator of the play, his own over-bearing mother, and a mentally fragile sister.

The story is told by Tom Wingfield and it allows audiences to step inside his memory. Tom's sister, Laura, has very little interaction with people other than her brother and their mother, Amanda.

Amanda is an overbearing and eccentric woman who is so caught up in her past defeats that she attempts to right her own wrongs through her daughter.

There's a gentleman caller, an absent father and disaster as Tom shares his story with audiences.

CT-A's production of Menagerie was an audience selection for the theatre's 49th season, and the production team behind the show is ready for audiences to see this beloved favorite.

"Our artistic team has been working since we closed 'Deathtrap' in October, because we knew our patrons really wanted to see this particular show," said Josh Steen, director of the production. "In finding our vision for 'Menagerie,' we leaned heavily on Tennessee's background and his own words: 'This play is memory.' We've heard so many people say this is their favorite play or they love this show. As we've researched how people remember things, we've been encouraged. We think audiences are going to be surprised, challenged and blown away by the performances of these incredible actors."

Featuring a cast of only four actors, Steen knew he needed the four most dynamic actors available.

"We have three long-time favorites returning for this show, and we're even more excited to show audiences what Melissa (Essary) can do," he said.

Essary portrays Laura Wingfield, and although she just made her stage debut in "The Wizard of Oz" earlier in the season, Essary and her family have been familiar faces at CT-A. Essary, husband Brad, and their entire family have been long-time volunteers, and recently helped the theatre develop sensory friendly performances for families affected by autism.

"We're so glad to have Melissa as the centerpiece of our menagerie, and we're thankful she's been able to split her time with us, her family and all of the Reconnect 4 Autism events the Essarys do," added Steen.

Cody Daniel, a Corinth and CT-A favorite, returns to the stage as The Gentleman Caller. While his performance is short, Daniel's impact on the show is notable.

"Cody is incredible," said Steen. "I'm not sure our audience has ever seen him play this type of role. He gets better with every performance."

To play the multi-dimensional Amanda Wingfield, Steen knew he needed an actress that was commanding and powerful, so he pulled back an actress that hasn't been seen onstage since 2006. Although Leslie Bivens was last seen in CT-A's "Tartuffe", Steen knew she was the perfect person to take on this challenging role.

"I worked with Leslie a lot during my earlier years at CT-A, and she was always the 'go-to' actress who could do everything. I toyed really heavily with casting my own mother in this show, but the right cards aligned to get Leslie to come play the role," said the director.

Bivens recently opened The Five Salon and Spa in Corinth. Despite punching many time clocks, she has stepped back onto the stage like she never even left.

"There are a lot of people I've always hoped get to work with in the arts, and for a couple of years Leslie has been on my list," said Steen. "It is a dream come true to be able to work with her on this show. Her performance is heart-breaking, unsettling and simply spectacular."

David Maxedon returns to the stage at CT-A as an actor for the first time since 2012.

He recently directed this season's "A Christmas Story."

"There's so much of me in Tom "" it's just a natural fit," the actor said.

Maxedon has done just about everything for CT-A, but getting the chance to bring him back as an actor is something Steen never thought he'd get to do.

"Getting David involved in this show was a game-changer. He makes a person better as an actor to work with, and he loves the process of doing this work. I honestly don't think this show could have been this powerful without him. It's an honor to have this opportunity to work with him. I've learned so much from David as a director and actor "" this is just a dream come true," Steen said.

According to Steen, the set is minimal.

"That's purposeful, as details become lost in dreams. With such talented actors "" maybe the best four people we could ever put on our stage together "" I didn't want there to be anything to distract from how great these folks are," Steen said.

The director said audiences are also in for a truly immersive theatrical experience, as the production is supported by original music composed specifically for Menagerie. Adrian Hollay's original music for "The Glass Menagerie" lies under and throughout the entire performance.

"I found this piece online, and contacted the composer immediately. Adrian was a delight to correspond with, and ultimately, his work helped craft our vision for this show. It's the entire reason I wanted to direct this production," Steen said.

"The Glass Menagerie" is sponsored by Magnolia Regional Health Center and Wood, Carlton, and Hudson, P.C.

Tickets are $12 for adults, and $6 for students.

Tickets can be purchased online at corinththeatrearts.com, by calling 662-287-2995 or at the playhouse up to one hour before showtime.

The playhouse is located at 303 South Fulton Drive.

Cast: Tom Wingfield - David Maxedon; Amanda Wingfield - Leslie Dawson Bivens; Laura Wingfield - Melissa Essary; The Gentleman Caller - Cody Daniel

Director: Josh Steen

Assistant director: Emily Steen

Producers: James Strachan, Dan Marsh, June Plaxco

Artistic staff: Clay S. Nails, Jennifer Southern, Lesley Petty, Max Marsh, Ava Marsh