Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Glass Menagerie"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone

"The Glass Menagerie"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current show at The Contemporary Theater Company is Tennessee Williams' American classic "The Glass Menagerie". The show first opened on Broadway on March 31, 1945 and ran for 563 performances. It was Williams' first successful play and seems to be more autobiographical than any of his other works. The show is set in 1937 and Williams whose real name was Thomas, would be Tom, his mother, Amanda and his sickly and supposedly mentally ill sister Rose would be Laura whose nickname in the play is Blue Roses as a result of an unfortunate bout of Pleurosis in high school. The story is written from the viewpoint of the narrator, Tom Wingfield. The play is introduced as a memory play by Tom and is based on his recollection of his mother and his sister. Amanda is a faded, tragic remnant of the Southern gentility who lives in poverty in a dingy St. Louis apartment. Amanda's husband abandoned the family 16 years ago and she remains stuck in the past. Tom works in a warehouse, doing his best to support them. He is driven to distraction by his mother's constant nagging, spends much of his time watching movies in cheap cinemas and seeks escape in alcohol, too. Amanda is obsessed with finding a proper suitor for Laura, who spends her time with her glass animal collection which are as delicate and fragile as she is. Tom eventually brings Jim home for dinner at the insistence of his mother. Jim builds Laura's confidence up by telling her she has an inferiority complex. Jim kisses her then dashes her hopes by telling her that he is engaged, destroying the world of illusion that Amanda and Laura have striven to create to make life bearable. Tom leaves and never returns to see his family again. However, he remembers his sister, Laura and regrets leaving her behind. One of Tom's last lines is "Blow out your candles, Laura" and as she does so onstage, making a poignant conclusion to this heartbreaking story. Director Stephen Strenio directs this show wonderfully and it is given a touching rendition by its four performers, making you shed a tear or two while doing so.

Stephen also blocks the show beautifully. He mixes the comic and dramatic moments to create a marvelous rendition of this classic script. He adds a live pianist to the show who plays mood setting music with original compositions by the pianist, Nasser F. Ashraf, a recent graduate of URI. Stephen also adds slides to explain different scenes. The excellent raked stage set is by Christopher Simpson with stage manager, Jillian Thacher making sure things run smoothly all night long. Matthew Royality-Lindman who I have reviewed before in "Cabaret" and "Lend Me a Tenor" which won him the 2009 Motif award, is terrific as Tom. He delivers his monologues in the "supposed present day" and his dialogue with the right amount of humor and pathos. He throws his coat in anger after an argument with Amanda, accidentally breaking some of Laura's glass animals. The argument scene between Matt and Beth is filled with electricity. He shows his love for his sister in this scene and also displays Tom's need for adventure in his life. Matt gives the role the needed depth, playing him on different levels to keep it from getting monotonous. The ending with Laura blowing out the candles is a powerful moment which makes it the fitting tribute Williams intended for his sister, Rose who ended up with a lobotomy for her "different" kind of behavior.Beth Berry gives a fantastic performance as Amanda who dreams constantly of the long ago days when she was a southern belle in the Blue Mountains and had seventeen suitors pursuing her. She captures this woman's larger than life persona as she runs her children's lives. Her Southern accent is perfect and her "Rise and Shine" garners much laughter from the audience as are the gay deceivers she places in Laura's dress because she is flat-chested. Beth blends the funny and touching moments together, creating a memorable character while doing so. She sparkles as the giddy Southern belle trying to entice a husband for her painfully shy daughter. Beth delivers the goods with pathos at the end of Act 1 when she has Laura wish for happiness and good fortune and in the second act when she reminisces about "Malaria, jonquils and your father."

Haley Ladd who is a pretty brunette, plays the crippled, Laura wonderfully. Her ethereal beauty captures the essence of this role and her line delivery is right on the money. She cringes and hides from the real world into her glass menagerie world and like that imaginary world, her world crumbles at her only attempt to entertain a suitor who is engage to another girl. Haley becomes a tragic wallflower as Laura and remains trapped in this dreary apartment with her mother. Nevan Richard as Jim O'Connor is dynamic on stage with his energetic delivery of all his lines. Jim tries to help Laura out of her shell, telling her to look on the positive aspects of life which he learned in public speaking class. Nevan's powerful character adds to the enjoyment of the evening, bringing life into the stale atmosphere of the Wingfield family trapped in that St. Louis apartment. This show brings back pleasant memories of when I directed in 1986 for Warwick Players. So for a journey back to when classic American show were first written, be sure to catch this marvelous show in South County.

"Glass Menagerie" (23 April - 1 May)
THE CONTEMPORARY THEATRE COMPANY
@ South Kingstown High School, 215 Columbia Street, WAKEFIELD RI
1 (401)228-5175

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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