Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Glass Menagerie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Carl A. Rossi


by Tennessee Williams
directed by Bill Doscher

Amanda Wingfield, the Mother … Janet Ferreri
Tom Wingfield, the Son … Jason Tennis
Laura Wingfield, the Daughter … Alexandra Harrington
Jim O’Connor, the Gentleman Caller … Mark Damon

The fate of plays that reach classic-status is that there is no burning need to either produce them or attend them and yet we should, every few years, not only because they are cultural touchstones but because they offer new perspectives as they (and we) grow older. Take Tennessee Williams’ first masterpiece, THE GLASS MENAGERIE, his autobiographical memory-play set during the Great Depression: did Amanda’s husband skip town on his own free will, or was he nagged out by his wife? (Notice how much of the Amanda-Tom clashes sound like marital squabbles rather than parent-child ones.) How much of Laura’s being crippled is really mental than physical? Jim O’Connor, symbolizing hope and a brighter tomorrow, harkens back to Mr. Williams’ rediscovered social dramas of the 1930s (Jim’s breezy dialogue is light years away from the over-poeticizing that bogged down Mr. Williams in decline --- and Jim is proof that not EVERY young man in Mr. Williams’ canon is a stud and/or Angel of Death). And Tom? How far are we now to view him as Mr. Williams, himself – i.e. is the character, homosexual? Tom goes to the movies on a nightly basis – yet if you know his creator’s stories “The Mysteries of the Joy Rio” and “Hard Candy”, what exactly lures Tom to the movies, night after night until two in the morning? Finally, you may come to view Mr. Williams’ Amanda no longer as a hatchet-job of his mother but as a tender, compassionate portrait of a conventional woman so tied to the past that she wounds more than helps her children struggling in the present (to quote Mr. Williams’ original description: “There is much to admire in Amanda, and as much to love and pity as there is to laugh at. Certainly she has endurance and a kind of heroism, and though her foolishness makes her unwittingly cruel at times, there is tenderness in her slight person.”)

The 7A Series at the Footlight Club offered a solid bread-and-butter GLASS MENAGERIE with two insights of its own: (1) the more intimate the production, the more involving this play becomes; and (2) the play works beautifully as a domestic drama when shorn of its memory-aesthetics (though the Wingfield family miming meals did jar a bit amidst the solid old furniture so artfully arranged in so small a space --- which, in turn, hinted that this was furniture from happier times, now squeezed into a tenement flat). Apart from Tom’s opening and closing monologues being placed inside the home than outside where the fire escape would have been and Laura NOT blowing out her candles at the end, Bill Doscher’s staging was respectful and drew out the play’s humor shimmering beneath the pathos (this is NOT a dysfunctional family comedy!).

I have yet to see a “bad” Gentleman Caller --- Jim O’Connor seems to be an actor-proof role --- but Mark Damon’s husky eagerness, so sound-alike to Mickey Rooney’s Andy Hardy, made him extra-“period” despite his hair not being Brill Cream’ed. Jason Tennis’ Tom was breathy and hollow in declamation (imagine shouting in a whisper to evoke his sound); he was more at home in little moments, especially with Mr. Damon. I’ve yet to see an indelible Laura: actresses are prone to make her a twitching neurotic, constantly on edge, and Alexandra Harrington swelled the ranks --- no one seems to consider that, perhaps, Laura’s inner world is one of gently falling snow which would lend her an eerie tranquility (and thus make her all the more hopeless in dealing with the real world) – in Mr. Williams’ story “Portrait of a Girl in Glass”, Laura communicates from a distant planet; still, Ms. Harrington is new to me, and I look forward to seeing what she can do in future roles that will allow her to straighten up, keep her hands still and smile as winningly as she did at curtain call.

Janet Ferreri is always worth watching, for she takes chances (or is given them) and she has yet to disappoint (oh, the colors she must have on her pallette, by now!); this may sound odd, but may she never reach Equity status so that she can continue to pick and choose from the community theatres in and around the Boston area. She is not beautiful in a cosmetic sense but there is a trembling radiance in her eyes which goes hand-in-hand with Mr. Williams’ wounded heart. Vocally, Ms. Ferreri’s Amanda began on too broad a note (not unlike Puccini’s Turandot opening with “Un questa reggia”), but she soon warmed to the subtleties of Mr. Williams’ music and made a touching, even lovable Amanda; you felt for her even in her cruelty and, possessing a thin but shapely figure, Ms. Ferreri made a party-dress entrance next door to a fairy tale (at the end, trumped again by Life, she unplugged her own wattage). Now give Ms. Ferreri Serafina (THE ROSE TATTOO) and Lady (ORPHEUS DESCENDING), please, and keep her growing.

I smiled to see that the omnipresent father-on-the-wall was local actor Mark Bourbeau, a charming fellow onstage and off --- whenever Ms. Ferreri (who has acted with him) turned to praise the husband’s charm, she (and Amanda) could only have told the truth.

"The Glass Menagerie" (19-22 January)
THE FOOTLIGHT CLUB – America's Oldest Community Theatre
Eliot Hall, 7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN, MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide