THE GLASS MENAGERIE, Steppenwolf Theatre Company. It would be hard to come up with a fresh look at this frequently produced masterpiece at any time. But it’s especially difficult this year: Writers’ Theatre Chicago produced a brilliant version just nine months ago that actually managed to reveal new facets of Tennessee Williams’s complex but familiar play.

Those who see Mark Brokaw’s production at Steppenwolf will not be so lucky: this dutiful, dull staging unleashes little of the script’s emotional power. Confusing eccentricity with inspiration, Brokaw mucks things up with lots of weird choices–like having Tom hang around the edges of every scene like a vulture or throwing the focus on Laura when Williams is clearly addressing the relationship between Tom and his mother.

But these directorial indulgences aren’t half as damaging to the show as the casting. Not only is Tim Hopper a good 15 years too old for Tom, his shallow performance lacks most of the hopeless despair that drives the character to the movies at every opportunity. Likewise Molly Regan as Amanda is sufficiently screechy but lacks the character’s undercurrent of heartbreak and genuine motherly concern. And Martha Plimpton’s Laura is just plain boring. The only bright light is David New’s gentleman caller, but New can no more lift this show out of its slough of despond than his character can redeem poor Laura. –Jack Helbig