GAMM Theatre's fourth show of their 25th season is Tennessee Williams's American classic "The Glass Menagerie". It was Williams' first successful play and it seems to be an autobiographical of Williams 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. 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. An added scene shows Tom in an embrace with a man when he returns home from the movies which alludes to Williams homosexuality. 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 Fred Sullivan directs this show splendidly. He divides the role of Tom between two actors, one the older Tom who is reflecting back on his life, regretting some of his actions, and his younger self. The show is given a touching rendition by its five talented cast members, leaving you shedding a tear or two while doing so.
Fred's direction is on target from the opening words of the narrator to his last ones, mixing the comic and dramatic moments together perfectly. Although the story is heartbreaking it has moments of humor sprinkled through it. He also blocks the show wonderfully using the fire escape as a symbol of Tom's escape from his awful past. Fred always does an outstanding job whether he is directing or acting in a show.. Marilyn Salvatore made some gorgeous 1930's costumes including Amanda's gown for the party. Set designer Patrick Lynch designed a stunning apartment with a dining room and living room with an outside area with a two story fire escape. The poignancy of the show is enhanced by David Tessier's violin and piano playing during the scenes. The portrait of the father is another important part of the set as he looms over the family. Sam Babbitt plays the elder version of Tom who narrates the show, delivering his monologues in the "supposed present day" and he first enters the playing area with a drink in his hand to show what happened to Williams in his later years. (Fred has cast Sam in 16 previous shows at Gamm and created this part for him in this show.) He gives the role the poignancy Williams intended as a tribute to his sister, Rose who ended up with a lobotomy for her "different" kind of behavior. Sam looks back at his life as Tom Wingfield, showing his regret at doing things the way he did in the past. Both Toms utter the blow out your candles dialogue, leading to many tears flowing from the crowd. Marc Dante Mancini as the younger Tom delivers his dialogue with the right amount of pathos. He seems petulant at times. Some dramatic moments are when he shows his love and concern for his sister that she is different and the final confrontation scene with his mother which left the audience breathless. Wendy Overly is fabulous as the overbearing, mother, 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 as are the gay deceivers she places in Laura's dress because she is flat-chested. Wendy blends the comic and tragic moments together in her interactions with Tom and Laura and shines as the giddy Southern belle trying to entice a husband for her painfully shy daughter. Her most poignant moment comes when she describes her love for her wayward husband with tears in her eyes, evoking tears from the audience. The final argument scene between Wendy and Mark hits the heights of intensity with their build up of anger in this scene.
Pretty brunette Diana Buirski plays the fragile, crippled Laura beautifully. Her ethereal beauty captures the essence of this role with wonderful line delivery. She cringes and hides from the real world under the table at times and also 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. Diana becomes a tragic wallflower as Laura and remains trapped in this dumpy apartment with her mother. Kelby Akin is dynamite as Jim, the Gentleman Caller. with his energetic portrayal. He builds Laura's confidence up in herself, delivering a strong but tender interpretation of the role. 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. Kelby's powerful character adds to the enjoyment of the show and Jim brings life to the stale atmosphere of the Wingfield family trapped in that St. Louis apartment. I have many pleasant memories of directing this show back in 1986. So for a trip back to when powerful American shows were first written, be sure to catch this outstanding show at Gamm Theatre.