The Glass Cage is a family feud filled story playing at Toronto’s Alumnae’s Studio Theatre
The Glass Cage is set in a sitting room in 1906 Toronto and it’s fitting that it is being performed in Alumnae’s Studio Theatre, Edwardian in design. The Glass Cage takes place over an evening when three young siblings of mixed indigenous and Scottish heritage visit their wealthy family’s home to wreak havoc and claim their birthright.
Douglas, Angus and Jean McBane are not initially clear about what they want from their deceased father’s family but a deed and transfer seem to be top priority for everyone.
Family tensions play out. Old slights, past greed and deception come to light. Race and class tensions lurk below the surface.
Unfortunately for this production, nothing ventures much deeper than the surface. Lines are spoken but not felt; the same two notes of anger/outrage and smug quietude are played on a loop. Scenes are blocked with an eye for the screen rather than the stage. Character work is not noticeable until Act II.
The second act is stronger and more compelling than the first and there are fleeting moments of genuine feeling and self-reflection, most notably from Sarah White who plays the hardened Jean McBane.
The most consistent and authentic character for me was Dr. Gratton played by Peter Higginson. He may be a secondary character but he was the only one I felt had the clearest intentions and strongest delivery throughout. He was also the most connected to the other actors on stage.
The difficulty with staging an older play (The Glass Cage was first performed in 1957) is that social attitudes change. Snowdrop Productions makes apologies for the offensive racial subject matter in the show. Another note in the program tells us that offensive language has been excised from the script.
While I find racial epithets unbearable, the story would have been more clear and the stakes much higher had the original language been left in.
Without the racial context, the exchanges struggle to be anything but sterile, unmotivated and empty.
Kudos to set designer Jackie McClelland for transforming the space into a straight, uptight and affluent sitting room of the period. Costume designers Katerina Kuzheleva and Victoria Banjavcic add beauty and detail with their decorous pieces.
Choices made in the lighting design confused me. The second part of Act I had the actors in dim light and I could barely make out their expressions. Odd choices in Act II had them (in a moment) sitting in too-bright and unjustified blue lighting.
The audience was much more generous than me and they had a better appreciation for the script. They laughed at playwright J.B. Priestley’s clever turns of phrase, especially when an actor spoke those lines rather than recited them.
It is a long show that was lingering and tedious at times to me. That said, the script and aesthetic are great for the time capsule enthusiast and history buff.
- The Glass Cage is playing at Alumnae Theatre’s Studio (70 Berkeley Street)
- Performances are October 5, 10, 11, 12 at 8pm. Sunday matinée on October 6 at 2pm
- Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online, by phone at 416-364-4170 or at box office (cash only)
Photo of Jean-Paul Bevilacqua, Sarah White and Garett Oliver by William Pemulis