note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Teri Wilkinson
A subtley lit gray crosshatching on a dark stage curtain and a single low metal platform set the stage for the narrator of The Glass Menagerie, the second play in this 16th year of New Century's summer works on the campus of Smith College in Northampton, Ma.
Yes, a simple opening for a strong solid production of this Tennessee William's classic. As the curtain rises and the narrator, Tom Wingfield (Jose A. Docen), sets this play in time and space, St. Louis, 1937, we see a finely lit and crafted set evoking the inner city with its window frame, streetlights, telephone poles and wires suspended in air above the aging interior of the Wingfield family apartment.
This is the domain of mother Wingfield (Joan Valentina), whose ceaseless and invasive chatter is a controlling harangue that has dominated the lives of her 'precious' children, Tom and Laura(Nikiya Mathis). It is a wonder these two survived at all. At least Tom works outside the home and escapes to the movies most evenings, but Laura who is a recluse of sorts hasn't fared as well.
A childhood illness has left her a hobbling 'cripple' who as a young woman is withdrawn and self-conscious. Her attempts to attend school heighten her nervousness so she lives in a reclusive world were music and her beloved glass menagerie are her sustenance, and her bulwark against mother Wingfield's overbearing and demeaning presence. This is just what these actors give their characters ---presence, and depth, and vitality. Their portrayals are so engaging ( I wanted to leap on stage and put mother Wingfield out of her (and our/my) misery) and they make this experience of a dysfunctional southern family portrayed by four African-American actors eminently believable.
So, the stage is set, the lights are lit ( or the candles, when the electric fails cause Tom used the money to join the Merchant Marines so he could truly escape), and the spider's web of guilt and entrapment are alive and speaking out in the Wingfield 'estate' (as mother would have it, if only Tom and Laura would do as she tells them to over and again).
Enter Jim O'Connor (M.D. Walton), a work comrade and old highschool mate of Tom's. Jim has been invited to dinner. Mother Wingfield, a gussied up 'Amanda' to Jim, (one wonders if this flirtation is part of how she plans to entice this 'fly' into her web and make a marriage for Laura.), forces Laura to be present, and for this I am grateful to her, for once.
Why? because the sweetest moments of this sad and painful play are Laura and Jim's, as they converse and reminice over moments in high school. Jim, who's presently taking a course in public speaking, talks alot, and says such supportive things to Laura. Soon, encircled by multiple bits of light, they are dancing slowly to her wonderfull music.
Jim sees her inner beauty, and outer, as well, and through his eyes, so does she.
Though the moment in time and space ends, Jim has his 'souvenir' and Laura has learned that a unicorn without its horn looks very much like another ordinary person.
Happy trails, Tom, and Laura, and thank you to four fine actors for a shaking the looking glass and opening a new window through which to view this old world.