The Glass Menagerie is Well Worth Seeing
“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.”
Tennesse Williams’s classic play text, The Glass Menagerie (circa 1944), opens with the soliloquy of Tom Wingfield, both narrator and protagonist, who famously elaborates on the conventions of what will ultimately become the popular memory play. Having coined this term it allowed Williams (and subsequent producers/ directors) freedom from convention when staging the piece. Loosely based on the playwright’s own memories, Tom flows in and out of the action allowing him to present (or perhaps manipulate?) his recollections in a stylized way. Inspiring the likes of other playwrights such as Harold Pinter, Williams single-handedly created a new aesthetic of narrative structure and stage practice that continues to influence our theatres today.
Presented by Bear & Co. at the Gladstone Theatre, The Glass Menagerie directed by Eleanor Crowder is a solid and worth-while production. Though it does not try anything new or exciting on stage, it remains faithful to the text and its speedy pace combined with strong performances makes for a pleasant viewing experience. Overall, this is an admirable production and is one that I would recommend seeing especially if you’ve never seen this particular text on stage.
Clocking in at just over 2 hours, this play clips along nicely with Tim Oberholzer and Rachel Eugster, as Tom and Amanda Wingfield respectively, building the momentum throughout and Sarah Waisvisz as shy sister Laura who balances out the breaking tensions between mother and son with her softness and quiet nature. Cory Thibert, as ‘the gentleman caller’ Jim O’Connor, is a crisp contrast to the dramatics of the Wingfields yet represents the much needed, but ultimately neglected, reality check. The banter between Thibert and Waisvisz in the final scene is quite funny and the relationship between the characters is credible and poignant.
The standouts for me are Oberholzer and Eugster as the constantly warring Tom and Amanda. Their performances illuminate one of the text’s major themes: the inability to accept reality. Eugster’s interpretation of the Wingfield matriarch is so cloying that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at how delusional this old feted Southern Belle is. Oberholzer plays off Eugster beautifully and gives good variety in the character’s varying levels of frustration at his current life situation. The transition between Tom and narrator is clear and I would argue that an echo of Hedwig can be heard in the narrator’s delivery.
I don’t have many criticisms for this production as I feel that it is a well-rounded performance that is suitable for a variety of audiences ranging from high-school groups to blue haired subscribers. However, I will mention that I was a little thrown off by the inclusion of the ages of Tom and Laura (22 and 24, respectively) which seems like a bit of a stretch given that the actors, in my opinion, are clearly depicting characters of a slightly more mature stature. I’ll concede that this is perhaps a rather particular note, but the exact age of Tom and Laura is so insignificant in the grand scheme of things if you were to omit the actual numbers the sentiment would still remain.
The Glass Menagerie is still such a relevant text in today’s digital age considering one of its most prominent themes is this inability to accept reality. This is embodied to different degrees in each of the Wingfield characters and throughout the play we see them all retreat into their own private worlds of illusions in which they find their comfort and meaning that the real world does not seem to offer them. Whether it’s frequenting the cinemas, an attachment to old-world values, or a collection of little glass animals, The Glass Menagerie identifies the conquest of reality by illusion as a huge and growing aspect of the human condition in its time.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennesse Williams
Presented by Bear & Co. Theatre
Directed by Eleanor Crowder
Playing November 20-December 6th, ticket info here.