Roger Williams University's fall show is Tennessee Williams' 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. The original show starred RI actor Eddie Dowling Jr as Tom. It was Williams' first successful play and seems to be an autobiographical of his life more so than any of his other works. The show 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 play is written from the point of view of the narrator, Tom Wingfield. Tom introduces the show as a memory play, based on his recollection of his mother, Amanda, a faded, tragic remnant of Southern gentility who lives in poverty in a dingy St. Louis apartment and his sister Laura. 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 but 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 is as delicate and fragile as she is. Tom eventually brings Jim home for dinner at the insistence of his mother. There is a tender scene between Jim and Laura where he builds Laura up by telling her she has an inferiority complex. He kisses her but dashes her dreams by a revelation. 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 to return 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 Robin Stone directs the show wonderfully and is given a touching rendition by its four talented cast members, leaving you shedding a tear or two while doing so.
Robin infuses the show with some needed levity and uses music of 30's before the show including Enrico Caruso, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and Bing Crosby to name a few. He uses a photograph of Tennessee Williams as the Wingfield father in the play.The gorgeous set which has a fire escape and a living room set is by Gareth Eames and the 1930's costumes are by Priscilla Eighme. Karson Baird does a wonderful 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 twirls his scarf in anger after an argument with Amanda, accidentally breaking several pieces of Laura's glass menagerie.Karson 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, playing it on many different levels to keep it from becoming monotonous. The ending with Laura blowing out the candles, gives the show the oomph that Williams intended as a tribute to his sister, Rose. His last monologue sends chills up your spine with his delivery and wonderful facial expressions. Rebecca Murphy gives a powerful performance as Amanda who dreams of her past glory when she was a Southern belle in the Blue Mountains and had seventeen suitors pursuing her. She captures the larger than life persona as she runs rough shod over her children's lives. Her argument scenes with Tom is beautifully portrayed by both of them as is their final confrontation when she yells at him to go to the moon. Her Southern accent is topnotch and her "Rise and Shine" was met with much laughter from the audience as is the gay deceivers she places in Laura's bodice of her dress because she is flat-chested. Rebecca blends the comic and tragic moments together in her interactions with Tom and Laura. She sparkles as the giddy Southern belle trying to entice a husband for her painfully shy daughter. Rebecca's scenes with Jim are priceless and she does an outstanding job on her senior project.
Natalie Brough who is a beautiful brunette plays the crippled Laura beautifully. She cringes and hides from the real world into her glass menagerie world. Like that imaginary world, her world crumbles at her only attempt to entertain a suitor who is engaged to another girl. Natalie becomes a tragic wallflower as Laura and remains trapped in St. Louis with her mother. Mike Tiberio who plays the Gentleman Caller, Jim O'Connor is terrific on stage. Jim tries to help Laura look on the positive aspects of life which he learned in public speaking class. His scenes with Amanda and Tom are energetically executed and he gives an added dimension to the play. This 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 Roger Williams University Theatre.