The Glass Menagerie
TexARTS succeeds in telling the story of Williams' sadly sweet play clearly
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., March 5, 2010
The Glass Menagerie
Kam & James Morris Theater,
2300 Lohman's Spur, 852-9079, www.tex-arts.org
Through March 14
Running time: 2 hr., 20 min.
Tennessee Williams wrote some truly great plays, but his first one is his best. Its themes of the breakdown of the family, abandonment by father figures, and the loss of a purer way of life echo down to the present in American storytelling.
Moreover, you will not find a more potent and omnipresent visual motif in any American play. Laura's collection of tiny glass animals is so beautiful yet so easily shattered. It represents not just the innocence and fragility of the agoraphobic young lady who collects them but also the innocence and fragility of us all.
Director Michael Costello and his set designer, Griffon Ramsey, have made the wise decision to put Laura's beautiful menagerie front and center in this TexARTS Equity production at the Kam & James Morris Theater in Lakeway, but fortunately, the show has more going for it than a strong visual motif. Great difficulty lies in making Amanda Wingfield, the matriarch of this fatherless household, a likable woman at all times, but Babs George achieves it. The woman means well! Stuck in a culture that valued females at home, not in the workplace, Amanda wants to save her daughter by the only means she knows: finding a husband for her. And so she exploits the only avenue she has to accomplish that task: She uses her son to find that husband. Yes, she's passive-aggressive; yes, she nags; but you cannot discount her desperation or, in George's hands, her ultimate goodness and love.
The play is narrated by Amanda's son, Tom, played here by Jude Hickey. Interestingly, Thomas was Williams' given name, and it's not a great leap to conclude that what we are watching is a slice of the playwright's life. While Williams may not have had a father who left when he was a small boy, a mother trapped in her longing for a more genteel way of life, a sister crippled by pleurisy and her own fear of the outside world, and a desire to break away from an oppressive lifestyle, chances are he had something like all of it. Thus, when Tom tells us we are watching a memory play, we understand the dim and shadowy lighting that designer Jason Amato provides and the old-sounding tunes that play so subtly underneath the action. We feel the longing for not just a simpler world but a fairer one, one in which a delicate flower like Laura, performed so gently and sympathetically by Jessie Tilton, can find a way to fully bloom, and one in which a young man like Tom can feel free to seek his own destiny without being tied to a past he did not help to create.
The production is not perfect, but it's perfect enough to bring tears to your eyes when you finish watching it. Besides, striving for perfection is difficult and chancy, to say the least. Best to have the goal of telling the story clearly, and that's what Costello and his creative team do in creating this workmanlike production of this sadly sweet and oh-so-very-simple play.