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A CurtainUp Review
Leaves of Glass
By Elyse Sommer
As many siblings (including the playwright) can confirm, remembrances of shared childhood experiences often differ in detail and their long term effect. The trauma of the secret haunting both brothers has apparently not kept Steven (Victor Villar-Hauser), the older, from becoming a successful business man and marrying his attractive secretary Debbie (Xanthe Elbrick). However, it made Barry (Euan Morton), an artist and the father's favorite, an alcoholic as emotionally fragile as an easily shattered piece of delicate glass.
Glass is the metaphor that crops up throughout the intermissionless two hours and ten minutes, suggesting more kinship with another famous "glass" title, Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie, than Whitman's poem. Another constant comes via the monologues by Steven which account for "Steven's memory" being included in the program's listing of the places in which this depressing tale takes on the skeletons stored in the recesses of these East Londoners' minds.
Unfortunately, while the eventual explanation of the "leaves" in the title again brings the Wingfields of Glass Menagerie to mind, neither the brothers, their mum (Alexa Kelly) or the pregnant Debbie are likely to make your own memory book of truly unforgettable characters. By the time the shocking revelations hinted at throughout the often stultifyingly drab scenes are finally played out, you're likely to be more relieved that the end is in sight than either shocked or deeply moved.
While Leaves of Glass has apparently gone through considerable rewrites since its London premiere last year, Ridley has not abandoned dialogue that reflects his fixation with the glass imagery, such as Barry's telling his mother "You believe him 'cos he wraps all the painful stuff in feathers and flowers. Makes it all safe and cosy. You can't feel the broken glass inside." Nor has it eliminated Barry's odd references to Auschwitz and his even more out of left field comparison of his relationship with Steven to the Kennedy assassination ("you know what youíre like to me, Steve? The fucking Kennedy assassination. An enigma in a. . .a mystery in a whatsit. Or whatever the fucking phrase is. But — hey! — thatís what family life is, I suppose, eh? Full of lies and deceit and spin. . .and mind-fucks. Each one of us are either sitting in the back of a car waiting for a bullet. . .")
Actually the revision may have lengthened rather than tightened the script, since the play now runs an extra ten minutes. I'm not sure if this is a case of trying to fix what either defies rewriting or isn't broken, or Ludovica Villar-Hauser's at times slow-motion staging. In any event, the one powerhouse confrontational scene between the brothers comes too late to save this production from being more tedious than tantalizing.
To be fair, Ms. Villa-Hauser is hardly an upstart director. She staged The Countess, with enough flair for it to move from off-off-Broadway to Off-Broadway for a long and successful run (review). Working with what is probably a limited budget, she's rightly focused on assembling the best possible cast instead of a costly set design.
As for the actors, Victor Villa-Hauser (the director's brother) is quite good as Steven, the brother who initially seems less damaged by the family dysfunction, but who turns out to be as disturbed as his brother and having to live with the burden of yet another trauma. Alexa Kelly is fine as the mother who's always ready to serve biscuits and tea but never to look into the dark corners of her family's history. Xanthe Elbrick as the wife whose pregnancy first indicates that all's not well with Steven, does her best with an underwritten role. d As for Ean Morton's Barry, the actor best known for his role in the musical Taboo, his performance is as riveting as this play should be but somehow isn't.
Postscript: If you arrive early, you'll be treated to a soundscape about Mary Quant and other once influential London fashion figures. The connection of this to Leaves of Glass is a piece of the puzzle I haven't quite figured out.