What exactly is a “bouffon”? When I first read about this parody of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, I assumed it might be done with all the actors sporting bouffant hairdos, but a “bouffon” is not big hair. According to the Playbill, a bouffon is “grotesque in nature, often physically deformed… the outcast shunned by society.” It goes on to report that the outcast bouffon, “eternally smiling with hateful eyes,” is sometimes expected to entertain people, an “anti-clown” who makes the audience the joke.
I had also read that Bouffon Glass Menajoree was interactive, and that an audience member was picked each night to play the Gentleman Caller, but I hadn’t expected the assaulting nature of the whole experience, which was often more Marat/Sade than Williams. You have to be in the right state of mind for a production like this; the anger of the performers is literally spit in your face. At its best, Bouffon is a genuinely uncomfortable experience, that sheds some light on Williams’ warhorse of a play.
Lynn Berg plays Tom Wingfield as a feral, lurching creature decked out, inexplicably, in a tattered football uniform. The conception of his character is fairly strange and, frankly, too heterosexual; why exactly would Tom have his crippled sister Laura give him a hand-job? The first job of any parody of The Glass Menagerie would be to haul Tom out of the closet, but he’s only outed here as a heavy drinker (Berg mercifully passes out free cans of cold Budweiser to the audience).
Aimee German’s Amanda Wingfield suggests a demented trailer park Debbie Reynolds, forever massaging her massive boobs and chowing down on junk food; in the play’s foulest moment, she scarfs down what looks like a whole runny stick of butter. When German gets up in your face, it works for the character, because Amanda has no boundaries whatsoever, and surely it’s poetically just that she drives the audience as nuts as she drives her children. Amanda is revealed as a phone sex operator here, but other than that, the production stays true to her character in the original play.
It’s in Audrey Crabtree’s Laura that Bouffon Glass Menajoree gets interesting. Laura was based on Williams’ sister, Rose, who was institutionalized and given a lobotomy, so Crabtree wears a ratty hospital gown, and her eyes are rimmed with red blood (blood also comes out her nose). She doesn’t really limp, but she does wear what looks like a crap-filled diaper. More disturbingly, she wears a pair of obscenely red plastic nipples over her breasts and flashes them to the audience at strategic moments. Crabtree gives a sexual basis to Laura’s disturbed personality, as if some kind of sexual abuse has made her what she is. I’m not sure I buy that idea entirely, but the actress so fully commits to this choice that she winds up being very compelling.
The gimmicky Gentleman Caller scene is fun, but it doesn’t really illuminate what happens to Laura or the rest of the family. Williams’ Menagerie has been performed so many times that almost everybody is sick of it, to one degree or another; the symbolism of the glass animals is so hoary by this point that it’s practically a parody of itself. Though Bouffon Glass Menajoree has pleasures of its own, it connects with this famous play only fitfully.