A strip mall in Osseo is an unlikely place for a theater. And even though I knew Yellow Tree Theatre was tucked away there, and was diligently following my Google instructions, I still managed to miss the entrance—and continue driving a good five minutes before realizing it.
Judge me all you want, but I was skeptical of what I’d find inside. I’d only recently been told of the theater’s existence, and, being a born-and-bred city girl, I was already outside my comfort zone embarking into suburbia. But assumptions and hesitation aside, I was excited about the play—The Glass Menagerie—and even more excited about the director, Jon Cranney.
For those of you who aren’t theater geeks like me, Cranney is a big deal around these parts. He’s been a director, performer, and producer at almost every theater in town, including a 15-year stint as a company member at Guthrie Theater and a 14-year tenure as artistic director at the Children’s Theatre Company. Needless to say, this guy knows his stuff.
With Cranney at the helm and Tennessee Williams as the content, I was willing to overlook the strip mall thing. And I’m glad I did. Yellow Tree founders Jason and Jessica Peterson have worked magic in this space, filling the lobby with gorgeous vintage and antique tables, chairs, trunks, and books; attaining a liquor license for beer and wine; and decorating it just-so with quotes and color. The performance space is intimate, a black-box feel where the audience is barely separated from the stage. The proximity adds to the camaraderie of the theatergoers, most of whom are fiercely loyal patrons and friends.
The cast of Menagerie added to the extended-family vibe: Cranney’s wife, Katherine Ferrand, plays Amanda, the play’s intensely worrisome and frustratingly anxious mother; and Jason Peterson fills the role of Tom, Amanda’s son—an unhappy young poet stuck caring for his not-all-there sister, Laura (a heartwarming Carolyn Trapskin), and mother, and working in a factory with other high school wash-ups like Jim (a dynamic Josef Buchel).
But don’t think Ferrand and Peterson were cast out of favoritism. Ferrand’s credentials aren’t to be scoffed at: She was a Guthrie regular for seven seasons, has done her time on Broadway, and acted in North Country alongside Hollywood hotshots Sissy Spacek and Charlize Theron. Peterson has worked in TV as well as in productions at YTT and the Jungle Theater.
Trapskin and Buchel are relatively newer to the acting scene, but hold their own. Buchel especially shines as Jim, the once-great high school star and Laura’s longtime crush. Even though he has the least amount of time on stage, Buchel uses every second of it to woo the audience as he woos the Wingfield family, his spark and enthusiasm contagious. Ferrand, too, captures the limelight, making you pity and sympathize with her even as you despise her for her shortsightedness and insistence on living in the past.
As a whole, the show is good. The strong moments outweigh the weaker ones, and the actors find their stride by the time the second act rolls around. As the run continues, this momentum is sure to grow, and, given the actors’ and director’s stellar reputations, I wouldn’t be surprised if good turns into great by the time the show closes May 6.
The Glass Menagerie
Through May 6
Yellow Tree Theatre, 320 Fifth Ave. SE, Osseo
Get a peek at what to expect in The Glass Menagerie video trailer