Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Glass Menagerie"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark

"The Glass Menagerie"

Directed by Russel R. Greene

Scenic and Lighting Design by John MacKenzie
Costume Design by Norma McGrath
Properties by Lissi Engvall, Eileen Monaperto, Russel Greene
Stage Manager Eileen Monaperto

Tom Wingfield................Mark Sickler
Amanda Wingfield............Isabel Davis
Laura Wingfield.........Judi Ann Mavon
Jim O'Connor..................Rick Gifford

In a sense, Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" --- his most intimate and personal play --- is easy to do well. In a sense, the Hovey Players' Abbott Memorial Theater --- the most intimate playspace in this area --- makes it easy to bring a play to life. But the nearly flawless production that graces that stage is a triumph for everyone connected with it.

In a space where the action is literally in the audience's lap, where nothing but a foot-high "fourth wall" separates action from spectator, detail is everything. Stage Manager Eileen Monaperto pointed out that she takes a thumb-tack out of the shabby wall of the Wingfield living-room for act two, because in spiffying-up the place the primly scheming mother would never abide its tiny, jarring note. The distance shy Laura keeps, sitting nervously on the floor, from her gentleman-caller, the precise length of a pause between lines, the point in their no-speaking contest when Tom Wingfield grudgingly apologizes to his mother --- each delicate detail, precisely and lovingly noted --- adds up to perfection.

All three Wingfields are mashed by poverty and personal problems. Amanda has had to bring up two children without the runaway father who charmed her away from better matches; Tom's shoe-warehouse job supports the three of them although he longs to live adventures instead of seeing them in movies; and Laura has been so stigmatized by a leg-brace from polio throughout high school that she can neither endure secretarial school nor flirt with available beaux. They sway to the music from the dance hall across the street, but never even think of going in.

Isabel Davis has made Amanda less of a matriarchal harridan than a regretfully realistic mother trying to cope with the results of her poor choices. Judi Ann Mavon 's Laura is truly terrified by the world outside that fourth wall that she believes can never include her. And Mark Sickler as Tom both remembers, narrates the story, and participates --- seeing his yearnings to break free as selfish yet incapable of finding a compatible solution.

And then there's Rick Gifford as that suitable young man Tom invites to dinner whom every one of the Wingfields sees in a different light. This Jim O'Connor is always polite, genuinely concerned, and helpful in his own way. It's not his fault that Laura and Laura's family needs more from him than anyone could really deliver.

As Russel R. Greene has directed the play, everything is gentled by the dim light of memory. The family squabbles and bickerings do have an edge of despair, but an edge muted by genuine love. He has made certain that there are no standout "stars" --- except the company as a whole. Each one, each of the possible pairs, and everyone working together becomes for that moment on stage "the star". Yes, it's an easy play to do well and this is a stage on which miracles are easy. But that script on this stage has rarely been done so well.


"The Glass Menagerie" (till 20 March)
9 Spring Street, WALTHAM

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide