REVIEW WRITTEN BY DANTE J.J. BEVILACQUA
For 21st Century Media
“The Glass Menagerie” stands apart from other autobiographical American plays. What lifts this work above so many other family living-room dramas is its author’s insistence on refracting the past through a complex and vulnerable sensibility.
On stage at the Act II Playhouse, “Glass Menagerie” dramatizes the central psychic struggle of Tennessee Williams’ life.
Williams had survived an indifferent father, a misguided mother, the tragedy of a beloved sister who was eventually lobotomized, a long apprenticeship, grinding poverty and his homosexual awakening. He emerged, at the age of 34, as the great playwright of his time. After “Menagerie,” which made a legend of his “kingdom of self,” Williams spent the rest of his life vainly trying to survive his fame.
Williams’ theatrical surrogate is the narrator, Tom Wingfield, to whom he gives his own first name and both his initials. The Williams family motto was “Know Your Opportunity — seize It,” and “The Glass Menagerie” dramatizes Williams’ panicky attempt to do just that. “I’m planning to change,” says Tom, a would-be writer, who longs to be free. Tom needs some big magic — the magic of an escape artist he’s seen who managed to get out of a coffin without removing a nail.
“Get me out of this 2 by 4 situation!” Tom says. At work in a St. Louis shoe warehouse, he is a wage slave lumbered by tedium, and at home he is a dutiful son lumbered by a possessive, puritanical mother, and a shy, crippled sister, Laura.
Tom is obsessed with his own momentum (“I am about to move!”), but domestic responsibilities threaten to stall his pursuit of self. “Self is all that you ever think of,” says his long-suffering mother, who lectures him to “overcome selfishness.”
The play, in making a case for romantic individualism, acts out the self denied (the martyred Amanda), the self repressed (the pathologically shy Laura), and finally, in Tom’s ruthless emergence as a writer, the self affirmed.
“The Glass Menagerie” is dominated by the absent father (“a telephone man who fell in love with long distances”), and his photograph faces the audience throughout the evening — a permanent reminder of the family’s sense of being both abandoned and stranded.
Interviewed by the New York Times in April 1945, Williams talked about himself and his play. “The Glass Menagerie”’ is based on the conditions of my life in St. Louis. The apartment where we lived was rented, and furnished with overstuffed furniture. The only nice room was my sister’s.
That room was painted white and she had put up a lot of shelves and filled them with little glass animals. When I’d come home from the shoe place where I worked, I would go in and sit in her room. She was the member of the family with whom I was most in sympathy and her glass menagerie had a meaning for me. As I thought about it, the glass animals came to represent the fragile, delicate ties that must be broken, that you inevitably break, when you try to fulfill yourself.”
Lead by the wonderful Carla Belver, the full impact of Williams gripping play hits the audience.
Amanda Schoonover as Laura nicely captures the pathological shyness of a young woman who lives in a fantasy world of glass figurines. Her Laura is the painfully shy, undemonstrative person the script demands and, as a very effective portrayal of Laura, Schoonover’s very sensitive performance makes you like her immensely.
Carla Belver as the mother, brings an affecting delicacy and a shrewd dramatic intelligence to her role. She never forces herself on the audience, but simply lets the play speak quietly through her character. She perfectly conveys the transcendent desperation of her character.
Charlie Delmarcelle’s soft, slow, casual performance of the dissolute son is delivered with the off-hand indulgence that seems to underplay the role; leaving you expecting more substance from the desperate son that leaves his family and repeats the flight his runaway father took long before.
The play includes a second act, flawless Gentleman Caller’s scene, well done by Sean Bradley. Because he emphatically but rather comfortably conveys the good-hearted, decent and inspiring qualities, Bradley is utterly believable, filling the latter section of the play with the affirmative elements one rarely encounters.
Daniel Boylen’s warm scenic design coupled with James Leitner’s superb lighting, enhances the intimacy of the play. James Christy’s astute direction makes perfect use of the warm and cold spots on the stage.
This production is a student’s dream come true — a page out of classic American theater, sketched out on stage, bringing image and sound into perfect harmony.
IF YOU GO
What: “Glass Menagerie”
Where: Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave in Ambler
When: Now through Nov. 23.
Admission: Tickets are $24-$35.
Info.: Call (215) 654-0200 or check www. act2.org.