Photo: Gary Mamay
Artistic Director Josh Gladstone has inaugurated the beautifully restored John Drew Theater at Guild Hall with a handsome production of Tennessee Williams’ haunting memory play “The Glass Menagerie” helmed by the acclaimed director Harris Yulin. Amy Irving a well respected stage and screen star for decades heads the wonderful cast as the bewildered Amanda, a fading Southern belle, who within her dull existence longs for nothing more than her children’s welfare.
After the play premiered in Chicago in 1944, the playwright scored his first major triumph when Menagerie debuted on Broadway the following year. People still speak with hushed reverence of the magic the great Laurette Taylor brought to this original production. Williams, who would go on to win two Pulitzer Prizes for his more sexually charged plays, emerged with Menagerie in his gentlest mood, a tender often humorous tale, which is believed to chronicle his own frustrating attempts to support his mother and ailing sister in St. Louis.
Set in the family’s drab living room beautifully rendered here in meticulous detail by the award winning scenic designer Beowulf Boritt. The claustrophobic apartment designed on a raised platform has an adjacent fire escape, where the characters could often retreat their oppressive environment to smoke and gaze at the moon. The set has a sheer creamy chiffon backdrop instead of a wall that filters the surrounding downtown neighborhood dominated by the seedy Paradise Café with its visions of the excitement beyond these humble confines.
The costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, who was nominated for Tony and Drama Desk awards this season for his work on the hit revival of Blithe Spirit are fantastic. He collaborated with Yulin on the director’s acclaimed production of The Trip to Bountiful.
The playwright views his characters with compassion and he has a clear identification with the victims of our society, the shamed and the forsaken. He sees them poetically and the lyrical language is classic Williams movingly filled with rhythmic southern cadences. The story is a dreamy recollection by the narrator Tom played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who begins the evening by addressing the audience directly before stepping into the unfolding action. Louisa Krause plays Laura, the character thought to be the playwright’s sister, who is given the nickname “Blue Roses.”
John Behlmann cuts a striking figure as the gentleman caller who Tom arranges to come to dinner at Amanda’s urging in hopes of finding a suitable partner for Laura. The shy sensitive Laura becomes sick when she realizes the man is the same boy she once had a crush on in high school. When the gentleman caller’s engagement to another woman is revealed in an intimate scene between him and Laura, Amanda views this fact as a cruel betray by Tom.
The play ends abruptly with Tom’s angry rebuke of his mother Amanda as he storms off abandoning the two women (reminiscent of his father’s desertion of the family years earlier), to seek his own fulfillment in the Merchant Marines and ultimately as a writer. This action would trouble the playwright for the remainder of his life. The narrator makes the sacrifice painfully clear in the play’s heart wrenching final monologue, while the two women fade into darkness leaving us with this final image of the deserted women.
Yulin’s lovely sentimental staging emphasizes the dreamlike quality of the play and the exceptionally well cast actors have a wonderful flare for the playwright’s poetic language. There is magic in the dialogue and the production scores here, while delivering many fine dramatic moments, but never achieves the heartbreaking pathos inherent in the complex masterpiece.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
The Glass Menagerie
The John Drew Theater @ Guild Hall
158 Main Street
1 631 324-4050
July 8 – 26