Reviewed by Mark Bretz
Playwright Tennessee Williams referred to his first major success, The Glass Menagerie
, as a "memory play," and indicated that "memory takes much poetic license."
Somewhat biographical in context, it features just four characters, namely the narrator, Tom, an aspiring writer; his domineering mother, Amanda; his emotionally and physically fragile sister, Laura; and Jim O'Connor, a friend of Tom's from his despised job at a shoe warehouse.
Set in St. Louis in the mid-1930s, The Glass Menagerie fully encapsulates Williams' description of a play that uses poetic license, in a rich and immensely rewarding fashion. First produced in 1944, it truly is one of the masterpieces of 20th century American drama, featuring dialogue by all the characters and soliloquys by Tom that flow as naturally and evocatively as a clear stream in some pastoral haven.
The present production by the Y-Rep at the West County YMCA successfully captures the sadness and sweet charm of one of Williams' most poetic works. Director Sheri Hogan elicits fine performances from her quartet of players, each of whom invests emotion and a solid intellectual understanding of their respective characters.
Karen Wood is particularly compelling as Laura, bringing an affecting interpretation to the young woman who clearly prefers the sanctuary of the modest Wingfield apartment to the onslaught and challenges of the outside world. Her fragility, of course, is mirrored in the collection of tiny glass animals that she oddly keeps in the living room, where a maelstrom of activity constantly threatens it.
Wood's performance maintains Laura's timidity and fear even when she's away from center stage, most effectively when she retreats from the volatile conflicts between her insensitive mother and frustrated brother.
As Amanda, Cindy Duggan delivers a solid portrayal, showing us how the former Southern belle's delusions about proper society have enslaved and defeated her children. She keeps Amanda's bullying at a level where it's believable without being overdrawn.
Luke Lindberg brings a moody exasperation to the role of Tom, chafing under his mother's narrow-minded notions while also attempting to be a dutiful son, providing most of the economic as well as emotional support while also attempting to escape his depressing plight as his fugitive father did years before.
Kurt Jarvis completes the cast as Mr. O'Connor, the well-intentioned Gentleman Caller who coincidentally was the major crush in Laura's high school days. Jarvis brings a sure and steady grace to the part that complements his character's belief in self-improvement and adds some realistic ballast to the ethereal nature of Williams' work.
The Glass Menagerie is a "Ësmall' work structurally, and thus the Y-Rep production suffers in the cavernous theater at the West County YMCA, a site physically more suitable for big productions. Also, the uncredited sound design is just too deliberate and coy to be truly effective.
All in all, though, this is a satisfying presentation of one of the great works by one of our most talented playwrights, a surprising treat in the busy theater schedule locally. The Glass Menagerie is performed again at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4:30 p.m. Sunday [November 16 - 18, 2007] at the Chesterfield Community Theatre at the West County Family YMCA, 16464 Burkhardt Place. Call 636-532-6515, extension 227 for ticket information.