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Monday, 12 March 2012 15:55

Shattering glass

Written by Bob Wilcox
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Shattering glass

St. Louis currently has a rare opportunity to see two productions of the best play set in St. Louis, Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie.

Dramatic License Productions presents the play as Williams said he wanted it done, as memory, not realistic, with projected titles for the scenes and mimed props. Others have already commented on this strong production.

Maggie Ryan, artistic director of Insight Theatre Company and director of that company's production of The Glass Menagerie, has chosen, like most directors, a more realistic approach to the play. After all, the dialogue Williams wrote sounds like dialogue from any realistic twentieth-century play, and the plot follows the chronology and logic of daily life. And our memories, however we may revise and brighten or darken what happened in the past, are to us scenes from real life.

So at Insight Theatre Company, Alex Van Blommestein's set quite convincingly looks like a lower-middle-class apartment in 1930s St. Louis, and Em Rossi's costumes are what people wore then, with lovely garments for the two women in the second act. Joe Clapper's lights rarely call attention to themselves, and then almost only during Tom Wingfield's monologues, the play's clearly non-realistic, consciously poetic element when Tom speaks directly to us in the present about his past. Bryce Dale Allen's sound design also provides realistic elements, like clocks striking, alarm clocks sounding, and music from the dance hall across the alley. But it also includes moments of musical underlining of the mood of the moment. And it all works quite convincingly.

Tommy Nolan's Amanda Wingfield is very much the aging Southern belle – aging but rarely fading, sometimes near despair but ever recovering with some reserve of strength and hope. I think of Amanda as a decade younger than Nolan presents her, and Nolan sometimes, like the production as a whole, slows the pace uncomfortably. By the end, Nolan made me believe in her Amanda – not the only possible Amanda, but a real one.

Matt Linhardt shows us a Tom Wingfield clearly unhappy in that apartment, eager to get away, willing enough to abandon his mother but torn by his concern and love for his sister Laura. In Tom's monologues, Linhardt has some odd phrasing and dropped projection that skew the rhythm of Williams' lines.

Ellise LaBarge, whom I have seen do wonderful comic work, surprised me with her withdrawn and pained Laura. Director Ryan gives her some moving moments as she huddles in her own glow from Clapper's lights and Allen's softly tinkling music before her collection of little glass animals, taking refuge in her own world. She comes alive as she shows her glass to the gentleman caller. And she glows and then shatters as he raises her up and gently lets her down.

Jordan Reinwald plays that gentleman caller with all the energy and confidence and forcefulness that Laura lacks – a little too showy at first, as he feels his way into the situation, trying to be an appreciative guest. But he becomes generous and tender in his visit with Laura. Reinwald makes him, as Tom says, a visitor to the Wingfields from another world.

And so again we have The Glass Menagerie.

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