In a beautiful ’30s setting “The Glass Menagerie” stays true to Williams, and the mother-son flare-ups and relentless sobbing stop short of melodrama.
Set in St. Louis in 1937, “Glass Menagerie” examines the disintegration of the Wingfield family. After his father abandoned them, Tom (Andy Sandberg ’05) remains the sole breadwinner in the family, supporting his mother Amanda (Grace Kuckro ’03) and his crippled sister Laura (Michal Towber ’05). He longs to escape the oppression of his mother’s demands and his unfulfilling job at the Continental Shoemakers. He writes poetry in secret and “goes to the movies” nightly. The timid Laura drops out of business school, losing her chance at an independent livelihood. Amanda, a Southern belle who had no shortage of “gentleman callers” back in her day, is disappointed by her daughter’s failure but pins her hopes on finding her a good husband. The play’s drama hinges upon the highly anticipated visit of Jim O’Conner, a prospective match for Laura, who works with Tom at the shoe warehouse.
Written by Tennessee Williams in 1944, “The Glass Menagerie” diverges from naturalistic theatre and showcases one of Williams’ innovations of the time: breaking away from realism into a dreamier, more loosely constructed show. Unusually, Tom Wingfield serves triple duty as an actor, narrator and stage manager, and moves freely in and out of the action. The “memory play” revolves around him, recounting his experiences, but ignores conventions, allowing the audience to witness scenes Tom was absent from.
Despite the occasional slip-up on both lines and parts of the set, Kuckro is outstanding as Amanda. Her Southern accent is consistent and pleasing, and her fluttery hands and busybody nuances are even more so. Her recipe for catching a man, “charm and vivacity and — charm” is a key ingredients in her own character. She breathes life into the show as its only source of light relief amidst the drama.
Sandberg is highhanded as the poet “trapped in this two by four situation.” His performance is enthusiastic, and he swings from frustrated rants to sarcastic humour in seconds.
In direct contrast to Sandberg’s character is the frail Laura. Towber brings a quiet, almost other-worldly strength to the role. She appears particularly naive and child-like in scenes with her collection of delicate glass animals, symbolic of her own fragility. Discussing her broken glass unicorn, she says in utter seriousness, “I’ll pretend that he had an operation so he felt less freakish.”
Gray’s performance is straightforward and he plays Jim with a natural ease. Although he has his moments, especially as he recounts his “Money Zip Power Zip” vision of the future, it is a shame this energy does not illuminate the rest of his lines, which are sometimes mumbled and rushed.
Director Eli Draper ’04 places figures carefully on the stage, so the audience can often see all of the reactions to the events unfolding on stage. Avoid the front row though, unless you want to look back and forth, as characters often have conversations across the entire length of the set.
The set designer should be credited for creating an authentic 1930s apartment. Complete with fireplace and fire escape landing, the elaborate setting, with its attention to detail, transcends its Sudler funding. The white net drapery background creates an appropriate ghostly atmosphere, reinforced by the repetition of a haunting musical theme.
The deep blue pool of light at the beginning of the play also sets the scene for loneliness and memories. From storm to candlelight, the lighting was skillfully handled, with the exception of the too obvious illumination of Mr Wingfield’s photograph when he is mentioned and shadows on the fireplace landing, which obscured Tom’s face during important monologues.
Overall, the cast and crew’s enthusiasm and sincerity overcame minor bumps and missteps along the way and made for a thoughtful and satisfying, if not inspiring, recreation of the Williams classic.