Story: Tom Wingfield, one of four characters in this two-act drama, describes it as “a memory play.” Serving also as narrator, he says that “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.” Tom then describes the fragile world of his Southern transplant mother, his physically handicapped older sister and himself, working at a shoe factory in St. Louis in 1938 and dreaming of the life of a poet and world traveler.
After habitual pressure from his insufferable mother, Tom finally invites a “gentleman caller” to their home to meet his sister, whom his mother fears will die unmarried. As fate would have it, the young man, a dapper gent named Jim O’Connor who works with Tom, is the very same boy she secretly admired in high school several years earlier. The young man’s visit results in a clash of wills between the delusional mother, painfully shy daughter and suffocating son within the confines of their modest apartment.
Highlights: A play rarely performed in the 21st century ironically is celebrating competing presentations this month on two local stages. The result is a mixed bag, with the rendition by Dramatic License Productions offering certain high points while this new one by Insight Theatre Company has its own share of achievements. The latter is being presented at the Missouri History Museum, not far from where Williams lived with his mother and mentally ill sister, all of whom are represented in this semi-autobiographical work.
Bryce Dale Allen’s sound design, with its emphasis on ragtime tunes by another St. Louisan, Scott Joplin, accentuates the local connection to one of the 20th century’s greatest American playwrights. Set designer Alex van Blommestein shrewdly utilizes the deep stage in the Lee Auditorium to present a realistic view of the Wingfield quarters, with enough space to adequately depict the living room (with its looming photo of Amanda Wingfield’s wastrel husband who abandoned his family), dining room and outer stairwell.
Other Info: Director Maggie Ryan and her quartet of players offer fine interpretations that differ in their own way from the ones being presented currently at the Artropolis in Chesterfield Mall. Tommy Nolan presents a genteel Amanda, a woman who lives in her own illusory past while obsessing over the future of her children. Nolan nicely captures the sad attempts at charm by the faded Southern belle who fiercely holds onto the past. Elise LaBarge does a credible job as the reclusive Laura, who escapes daily into the safe realm of her menagerie of crystalline figures but sparkles briefly when complimented by the dashing O’Connor.
Jordan Reinwald is a brusquer, more abrupt O’Connor than some more affable and engaging interpretations, but does well showing Laura the promise of a brighter future if she only believes in herself. As Tom, Matthew Linhardt seems less the sensitive poet than the merchant seaman whom Tom longs to be to satiate his quest for adventures.
Joe Clapper’s lighting effectively illustrates the dim Wingfield environment while also underscoring the poignant candle scene between Laura and Jim, and Em Rossi provides suitable attire for the era. Jim Ryan’s properties include that overstated photograph of the overblown Mr. Wingfield.
Maggie Ryan’s direction is delicately attuned to the deliberate and poetic shaping of Williams’ dialogue and keen eye for observation of the world around him as well as the thoughts and emotions of his characters. Emanating from another time and place, this Glass Menagerie is properly distilled through the soft light that reflects off those glass figurines.
Play: The Glass Menagerie
Group: Insight Theatre Company
Venue: Lee Auditorium, Missouri History Museum, Lindell at DeBaliviere
Dates: March 15, 16, 17, 18
Tickets: $20-$25; contact 361-9017 or mohistory.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb