Story: Our narrator, Tom Wingfield, intones at the start that what we are seeing is “a memory play” about his mother, his handicapped sister, the narrator himself and a ‘gentleman caller’ who is from the world of reality. “I am the opposite of a stage magician,” says Tom. “He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”
A large, imposing portrait of Tom’s deadbeat father looms over the somewhat shabby living room where Tom’s mother Amanda, a once genteel Southern belle, cajoles her son to make a better life for her and his sister Laura. Tom despises his job at a St. Louis shoe warehouse, but his menial work pays the rent and utilities for the forlorn apartment the three of them share. Laura, born with a defective leg, has let her physical impairment affect her psyche as well, to the point that the painfully shy girl cannot function outside of the comforting confines of the apartment, where she nurtures a collection of tiny glass figurines.
When the perpetually badgered Tom, who yearns to be a poet and free of his mother’s stifling influence, finally capitulates to her entreaties and brings home a ‘gentleman caller’ for Laura from the warehouse, the family is forced to recognize reality with both its charms and disappointments.
Highlights: Playwright Tennessee Williams’ first successful play is a semi-autobiographical study of the poet as a young man, yearning to escape the oppressive boredom of his adopted home town of St. Louis, circa 1938. The two-act drama is filled with Williams’ lyrical style of dialogue (and soliloquies by Tom) that accentuates the painful loneliness and despair of the Wingfield family.
Director Bill Whitaker provides a different kind of interpretation in the fine production currently being offered by Dramatic License Productions, one that utilizes video projections cleverly conceived by Michael Perkins on a back screen that provide a realistic realm for the delicate life within the apartment even as Joseph Pini’s melodramatic sound design adds a quaint and affecting music-box motif to the drama on stage.
Other Info: Courtney Sanazaro-Sloey’s deep set design allows for action to play out both in the back area which serves as the kitchen and the front-stage locale for the Wingfield living room. As a result, the kitchen scenes have a ‘distant’ feel to them, but so it goes. The design also incorporates an outer stairwell at stage right for entrance to the Wingfield home.
Max Parilla contributes a finely wrought lighting design most effective in the poignant finale, while Jane Sullivan’s costumes expertly convey both the era (such as Jim O’Connor’s handsome fedora) and the atmosphere (with the sad, faded splendor of Amanda’s dinner gown). Barb Mulligan’s props feature a period phonograph as well as the glass collection, both of which provide refuge for Laura from the world that overwhelms her.
Whittaker’s careful and meticulous direction can be a bit too precious at times, although that seems to be consistent with the melodramatic direction this production often takes. Still, the masterful ability of Williams to craft scenes and characters in such a delicate framework underscores why he was one of the 20th century’s most important American dramatists.
All four of the players deliver fine performances, led by Tom Lehmann’s genial and ingratiating depiction of Jim, the ‘gentleman caller.’ Lehmann’s comfortable and casual demeanor emphasizes the innate kindness and likability of a man who once was the unknowing recipient of Laura’s shy affections at Soldan High School. His scene with Laura in the Wingfield living room provides her with the opportunity for hope and happiness, or at least a direction for such.
Macia Noorman nicely conveys the painful shyness of Laura, although on opening night she had troubles remembering that Laura is crippled. Nonetheless, Noorman offered an affecting portrayal of a creature as fragile as the delicate figurines she so lovingly protects. Watching her panic at the mention of Jim’s impending arrival and then later glow as he attempts to buoy her confidence are moments of lasting impression.
DLP executive producer Kim Furlow marvelously conveys the suffocating and overbearing personality of Amanda, a woman who has come upon hard times that contrast sharply with her pampered and privileged youth and yet insists on maintaining a shrine to the husband who cruelly abandoned her and their children. Furlow captures the browbeating and domineering nature of Amanda as effectively as Antonio Rodriguez delivers a rendering of Tom that shows us the young man’s desperate attempts to find his own identity and escape his hellish environment. Rodriguez’ portrayal seems a bit flat at times, perhaps because Tom’s nuances can be sometimes difficult to project.
There are moments when this Glass Menagerie seems awkward and disjointed. On the whole, however, it’s a beautifully rendered resurrection of one of the great plays of the American theater.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Play: The Glass Menagerie
Group: Dramatic License Productions
Venue: Dramatic License Theatre, Chesterfield Mall upper level near Sears
Dates: March 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 18
Tickets: $18-$25; contact 636-220-7012 or DramaticLicenseProductions.org
Photos courtesy of John Lamb