Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Glass Menagerie"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"The Glass Menagerie"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

New England Repertory Company's spring show at MMAS theatre is Tennessee Williams's American classic "The Glass Menagerie". It was first written as a screenplay for MGM to whom Williams was contracted. The play premiered in Chicago in 1944 and in 1945 won the prestigious Drama Critic's Circle Award . The show first opened on Broadway on March 31,1945 and ran for 563 performances and starred RI actor Eddie Dowling Jr as Tom. It was Williams' first successful play and seems to be an autobiographical of Williams life more so than any of his other works and is set in 1937. Williams whose real first name is 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", a result of an unfortunate bout of Pleurosis as a high school student. The story is written from the point of view of the narrator, Tom Wingfield. The play is introduced to the audience by Tom as a memory play, based on his recollection of his mother Amanda and his sister Laura. Amanda is a faded, tragic remnant of Southern gentility who lives in poverty in a dingy St. Louis apartment. Amanda's husband left the family 16 years ago and she remains stuck in the past. Tom works in a warehouse, doing his best to support them. He chafes under the boredom and banality of everyday life. He is driven to distraction by his mother's constant nagging, spends much of his spare time watching movies in cheap cinemas and seeks escape in alcohol, too. Amanda is obsessed with finding a suitor for Laura, who spends most of her time with her glass animal collection which are as delicate and fragile as she is, after having dropped out of business school. Tom eventually brings Jim home for dinner at the insistence of his mother, who hopes Jim will be the long-awaited suitor for Laura. Laura realizes that Jim is the boy she loved in high school and has thought of ever since. He builds her up by telling Laura she has an inferiority complex and needs to build up her confidence. In the candlelit scene Jim kisses her then dashes her hopes, telling her he is already engaged to Betty, then leaves. The world of illusion that Amanda and Laura have striven to create in order to make life more bearable collapses about them. Tom leaves too, never returns to see his family again. However, Tom still remembers his sister, Laura and shows his regret at leaving his sister behind. One of Tom's last lines is "Blow out your candles, Laura'' and the character does that onstage bringing the show to its poignant conclusion. Director Mike Kiernan directs this show wonderfully. The show is given a touching rendition by it four talented cast members, leaving you shedding a tear or two while doing so.

Michael Duarte constructs a two room set with the living room area on a platform stage left and dining room area center stage and hung over the fireplace is a photograph of the missing father. The living room area has a gramophone, sofa and chair with a French door of their apartment as well as a fire escape stairs leading outside. Glenn Fournier and Michael drew the wall papered flats with a fleur de lis(which is an iris or lily design with jonquils mentioned by Amanda in the play being iris.) design on it and brick for the fire escape area. The entrance to the Wingfield apartment is from this fire escape in an alley The eating and drinking scenes are pantomimed because Williams suggested minimalist props . Hard working stage manager, Alan Conway keeps the show moving smoothly all night long while costume designer Mary Jane McCool supplies all the 1930's style costumes with my favorites being Amanda's red cotillion gown and Laura's pale yellow party dress. Alex Chek runs the sound cues and the music chosen by Mike is wonderful for the show. Lucas Lloyd does a terrific job as Tom. He delivers his monologues in the "supposed present day" and all his dialogue with the right amount of humor and pathos. He trips into the living room in anger after an argument with Amanda, accidentally breaking several pieces of Laura's glass menagerie. Lucas as Tom, shows his love for his sister while also displaying the need for adventure in his real life. He gives the role the needed depth and plays the character on many different levels to keep it from getting monotonous. The ending with Laura blowing out the candles gives the show the oomph that Williams intended as a tribute to his sister, Rose who ended up with a lobotomy for her "different'' kind of behavior. His last monologue sends chills up your spine with his powerful delivery with his perfect facial expressions at having deserted his sister, making him one of the best Toms I have ever seen in this role.(Lucas is not only a topnotch actor having reviewed him in "Barefoot in the Park" but is an excellent director, too, having reviewed his show, "Shadowlands" a couple of months ago.) Beth Goldman gives a powerful 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 is always excellent in every role I have seen her in and this role is no exception. Beth captures the larger than life persona as she runs rough shod over her children's lives and argument scene with Lucas is brutally portrayed by both of them as is their final confrontation when she yells at him to go to the moon. Her Southern accent is perfect and her "Rise and Shine" is met with much laughter from the audience as are the gay deceivers she places in Laura's bodice of her dress because she is flat-chested. Beth blends the comic and tragic moments together in her interactions with Tom and Laura and sparkles as the giddy Southern belle trying to entice a husband for her painfully shy daughter with her interactions by not letting Jim get a word in before the dinner scene being hilarious. One of her most poignant moment comes at the end of Act 1 when she has Laura wish on the crescent moon for happiness and good fortune with tears in her eyes, evoking tears from the audience at that point. Another serious moment is when she mentions malaria, and proclaims to Laura "Malaria fever, jonquils and your father." Beth gives a stunning performance that must not be missed.

Jocelyn Winzer Chek who is a beautiful blonde plays the crippled Laura beautifully. 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 engaged to another girl. Jocelyn becomes a tragic wallflower as Laura and remains trapped in this dumpy apartment in St. Louis with her mother. Brian Dunham as Jim O'Connor, the Gentleman caller is wonderful on the stage,too. Jim tries to help Laura look on the positive aspects of life which he learned in public speaking class. The show brings back pleasant memories of when I directed it for Warwick Players back in 1986. So for a trip back to when powerful American shows were first written be sure to catch "The Glass Menagerie" at MMAS for superior acting talent. Renovations will be taking place at MMAS with an expansion of their theatre space. MMAS's next show is "Baby" in July.

"The Glass Menagerie" (8 - 24 May)
MMAS THEAQTRE
30 Crocker Street, MANSFIELD MA
1 (508) 339-2822

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