Gradually that play becomes “The Glass Menagerie,” though there are also snatches of “Suddenly Last Summer,” the Williams script that addresses Rose’s lobotomy most directly, and a bit from “A Cavalier for Milady.” (Are the gorillas loping across the stage a nod to the apelike Stanley Kowalski from “A Streetcar Named Desire”? Unclear.) Mr. Mehrten and Ms. Mitchell, artists long associated with Mabou Mines, move among the characters with quicksilver speed, aided by occasional wigs.
That Rose haunted her brother’s work is beyond question. Many of his plays center on women who can’t or won’t live in the world as others do. Laura, Clare, Catherine, Blanche — they are Roses by any other name. Maybe they are Tennessees, too. As he wrote to his agent while working on “The Glass Menagerie,” his sister “had the same precarious balance of nerves that I have to live with.”
In stitching so many of these plays together, Mabou Mines uncovers the deep structures underlying them: the grief and the guilt, the disgust and the difficult love.
But this isn’t some live-action doctoral dissertation. Mabou Mines, a stronghold of Off Off Broadway experimentation, has a longtime interest in explicating and imploding classic texts, from its celebrated “The Gospel at Colonus,” modeled on Sophocles, to its superb “Dollhouse,” an unpacking of Ibsen. Here Mr. Breuer employs a lot of anarchy and a lot of id. As Clare says in “The Two-Character Play,” “Panic is the play’s subject. And the style of the play.” Mr. Breuer has taken notes.
In his vision of “The Glass Menagerie,” for example, Mr. Mehrten’s Amanda entertains in a pink corset and Ms. Mitchell’s Laura has shackles affixed to her arms and ankles and a unicorn’s horn that doubles for the lobotomist’s drill. The gentleman caller (Eamonn Farrell, lending a hand and a pelvis) wears a leather jockstrap, and when he leans in for a kiss, Tom (Mr. Mehrten again) shoves Laura out of the way and puckers his own lips instead.
Anyone who clutched her pearls at Sam Gold’s controversial staging of that Williams play earlier this year should probably stay away or risk strangling herself.
Though the ideas underpinning “Glass Guignol” are shrewd, the biographical context wrenching, the staging seemingly audacious, the play itself is often inert. That panic? It never engulfs the audience. In this brand-new theater, many of Mr. Breuer’s gestures, like a mostly nude Christ or Meganne George’s fetishwear costumes, point back to the company’s 1970s and 1980s heyday. This is shock treatment with a low current.
Mabou Mines was always an exemplar of the theatrical avant-garde. The company is nearly 50 now. Maybe its members have slowed down. Maybe the rest of us have finally caught up.