The third show of Theatre Works' 26th season is Tennessee Williams' American classic "The Glass Menagerie". The show first opened on Broadway on March 31, 1945 and ran for 563 performances. it starred local actor from Woonsocket Eddie Dowling as Tom in the 1945 production. It was Williams' first successful play and seems to be an autobiographical of Williams's life more closely 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 banality and boredom 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 man 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, and then leaves. The world of illusion that Amanda and Laura have striven to create in order to make life bearable collapses about them. Tom leaves too, and 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. Director Mark Anderson directs this show wonderfully and is given a touching rendition by its four talented cast members. It will leave you shedding a tear or two while doing so.
Not only does Mark direct the show beautifully but he constructs a two room set with the dining area on a platform upstage with beautiful blue flowery curtains and white shears on the back wall with a photograph of the missing father hanging on it. Downstage is the living room area with a gramophone, sofa and arm chair with an actual screen door of their apartment, a porch area and stairs. The eating and drinking is pantomimed because of the multitude of eating and drinking scenes. Hard working stage manager,Melissa Chenail keeps the show moving smoothly all night long while costume designer Sharon Charette supplies all the 1930 style costumes especially impressive was Laura's pink party gown. Edward Benjamin III does a terrific job 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 his mother accidentally breaking some of Laura's menagerie and he shows his love for his sister while also displaying the need for adventure in his real life. Ed gives the role the needed depth and plays the character on many different levels to keep if from getting monotonous. The ending with Laura blowing out the candles gives the closing moment the poignancy Williams intended as a tribute to his sister, Rose who ended up with a lobotomy for her "different" kind of behavior. Mark's real life wife, veteran actress, Connie Anderson 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 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" is met with much laughter from the audience as are the gay deceivers she places in Laura's dress because she is flatchested. Connie blends the comic and tragic moments together in her interaction with Tom and Laura and sparkles as the giddy Southern belle trying to entice a husband for her painfully shy daughter. 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 she had malaria, and proclaims to Laura "Malaria, jonquils and your father." (congrats to Connie and Mark who will be grandparents this August/ September with their son, Josh and his beautiful wife Tina's first baby!)
Sarah Nicklin who is a beautiful brunette, plays the crippled, Laura perfectly. Her ethereal beauty captures the essence of this role and her line delivery is excellent. 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. Sarah becomes a tragic wallflower as Laura and remains trapped in this dumpy apartment with her mother. Kevin Broccoli as Jim, the Gentleman Caller, is wonderful on the stage with his energetic delivery of all his lines. Jim tries to help Laura out of her shell by telling her to look on the positive aspects of life which he learned in public speaking class. Kevin's powerful character adds to the enjoyment of the evening and brings life to the stale atmosphere of the Wingfield family trapped in that St. Louis apartment. The show brings back pleasant memories of the time I directed the show back in 1986 for Warwick Players. So for a trip back to when powerful American shows were first written. be sure to catch this topnotch show at Theatre Works. You will be glad you did.