Something broken in new interpretation of ‘Glass Menagerie’

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

SAN DIEGO—-Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is a haunting play. It has been said that Williams was in the middle of many of
his rewrites of the play during the time his sister Rose had undergone a prefrontal lobotomy and this was his way of coming to terms with his sister’s illness and perhaps his guilt over his not taking a more aggressive role in preventing her operation.

We will never know.

It matters not how many times we’ve read this play. Our life experiences will dictate how we relate to the playwright’s words. Nor does it matter how many times we have seen the play. Each actor brings something new to the table and each director has his or her own vision of what emotional impact will come to the fore. Yours truly has seen this play more times than can be counted and each time offers a different take away.

Cygnet Theatre in Old Town is noted for theatre excellence. Director Sean Murray’s rendering of a Williams’ favorite tends to bring out a new perspective of an often-produced play with a top-notch cast, but it doesn’t always satisfy.

The Glass Menagerie is told in flashback by young Tom Wingfield (Francis Gercke) as Williams’ alter ego, after he returns home since abandoning his ‘crippled’ sister, Laura (Amanda Sitton) and his overpowering, overbearing mother Amanda (Rosina Reynolds). Tom, like
his father before him, could not stand the confines of his small apartment, the restrictions of his job in a shoe factory, and finally the oppressive personality of his domineering mother.

When we first meet Tom, he is sitting at his desk poking on his typewriter composing the opening monologue of the play. The room is off to the side of the stage looking something like an anteroom to his mother’s small apartment (Andy Hull’s set design serves the space well.) in St Louis, possibly his old bedroom. It is dimly lit (Michelle Caron) with nothing but a desk lamp, trashcan, an ashtray and his little notebook. Just outside the apartment is a fire escape that Tom uses as a refuge when his frustrations overflow and his anger at his mother comes to the boiling point.

Tom is both narrator and character in his own play. He tells us:  “ Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion”.

He also lets us know that his story begins in the thirties when there is a war going on in Spain and ‘a different kind of turmoil in America’. Perhaps he’s comparing that different kind of war with the different kind of battle going on in his own home.

Tom looks wistfully back at the memory of the hustle bustle of his mother and sister going through the same dance they go through every night, that of setting the table for dinner and discussing who will do what with the dishes, flatware and food.

After dinner when Tom steps into the room, Amanda urges Laura to let her clear the table so she (Laura) can ‘remain fresh and pretty for gentleman callers’. She reminds them both again, that on one Sunday back in Blue Mountain, she received no less than 17 gentlemen callers.

This is where Tom’s story and most of the action begins and where the director sets into motion a different perspective and a noticeable change (from other productions I’ve seen).  Tom  tells his story as more of a rewrite of what he wanted to happen than a memory
piece of what he remembered happening.

He does this by leaving Tom out of some of the scenes like the dinner scene (which seemed rather awkward for Amanda to be holding his hand while Tom is in the other room telling the story) or by his being a bystander, breaking the fourth wall by entering and or leaving the conversation and using only facial or body language to let us know how he feels about a certain conversation.

As Tom, some of Gercke’s stances, hesitations, jerky starts and stops are distracting and confusing, to say the least. As both storyteller and character almost in a movement by walking on to the stage and then becoming the character or the narrator again he breaks the
mood, continuity and poetry of the play

Amanda Sitton has it just right as Laura the ‘crippled’, shy almost to a nanosecond shrinking and dying-on-the-vine violet that in so many ways you want to take her out of that hellhole and hold her. Every uneven step she takes represents an effort on her part to get through yet another day. She is driven to a world of fragile glass figurines set upon a small table and when the real world seems cruel or out of her reach,
she literally crawls to her glass family and leaves reality behind

But the real driving force behind this family’s dysfunction is the oft time strong willed Amanda Wingfield.  On the one hand she is nagging and pushing Tom to bring home a ‘gentleman caller’ to marry off to Laura and on the other hand the dreamy Southern Belle living in the glory days of her past when, as has been noted, she entertained more than 17 gentlemen callers in just one day. With a strong southern accent and the determination of a racehorse, she is unyielding in her quest to find a suitable suitor.

It all comes together in act two when Tom invites a fellow worker to come to dinner. When the Gentleman Caller, Jim (Brian Mackey) does show up he happens to be the one boy Laura had a crush on in high school. That about sends her over the top and almost to a nervous breakdown. But not Amanda who comes out dressed to the nines in her white cotillion dress and carrying a bouquet of flowers across her arms as if she, herself was receiving the gentleman caller. She’s as sympathetic as she is pathetic.

A class actor, Reynolds is the personification of a performer doing what she does best, effortlessly becoming another person. And if that doesn’t ring true in this production, then I have never seen another Amanda Wingfield. Reynolds is simply a standout as she
waltzes around the room with a smile from ear to ear lost to the real world and in her own dream of being in a better place.

Mackey is stunned but amused as Amanda openly flirts with him before leaving him with Laura in what she thinks will be the match of the century. Mackey whose presence brings new life to the Wingfield living room is like a breath of fresh air. Mackey, a fine actor in
his own right fits right into this ensemble by being the most realistic person in the play, as Tom indicates from the start.

His optimism is in contradiction to the gloom and doom cloud that hangs over the Wingfield house. And by the time he and Laura finally do have a conversation and a swirl around the living room she begins to bloom and smiles and laugh with him. But soon he sees the
handwriting on the wall and confesses he’s met someone else. She shrinks back into her glass world. And as the door behind Jim closes, we know that Tom is gone and the two are left to fend on their own.

Shirley Pierson’s costumes are period ready and original music by associate artistic director George Yé is beautiful. Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound design is right on. While Michelle Caron’s lighting design works most of the time, I was puzzled on opening night as to why lights formed a pattern around the elder Wingfield’s picture that was hanging in the living room.

Don’t miss seeing Rosina Reynolds in this talented packed production of Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. She simply shines.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: through Nov. 13th

Organization: Cygnet Theatre

Phone: 619-337-1525

Production Type: Drama

Where: 4040 Twiggs St.

Ticket Prices: $29.00-$54.00

Venue: Old Town Theatre

Davis is a San Diego-based theatre critic.  She may be contacted at [email protected]

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