BWW Review: Lovely Dreamlike Production of THE GLASS MENAGERIE at City Theatre
THE GLASS MENAGERIE was Tennessee Williams first successful play. It premiered in Chicago in 1944 and later transferred to Broadway. This four character memory play took Williams from obscurity to fame, winning the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1945. The most strongly autobiographical of his work it features characters based on his overbearing mother and his fragile sister Rose. Before the play Williams had covered the material in both a short story called "Portrait of a Girl in Glass" and a screenplay written earlier called The Gentleman Caller. The play is the most lyrically beautiful of all of Williams work, due mostly to the poetry of Tom's soliloquies to the audience. It examines the isolation of people who can't connect to each other or the world at large.
Williams (whose actual name was Thomas) is the basis for the character of Tom, the narrator. His frail and unstable older sister Rose was the basis for the fragile Laura. Williams gave half of the royalties from THE GLASS MENAGERIE to his mother and half of the royalties from SUMMER AND SMOKE to provide for Rose's care. In the end, he gave the bulk of his estate to ensure Rose's continuing care until her death in 1996.
The play begins with Tom (Ben McLemore) directly addressing the audience to tell them they are about to see a memory play and that they might not see things exactly as they happened. The story we are about to see is based on his memories of his mother Amanda (Terri Bennett) and his sister Laura (Sarah Zeringue).
Amanda is a faded Southern belle who is both a survivor and a dreamer. She spends a great deal of time talking and reminiscing about her days as a debutante. She also is obsessed with the future of Laura, who was left with a limp from polio. The limp has also left Laura with a crushing fear of the outside world. Tom tries to support them with his job in a shoe warehouse. An artistic soul, he yearns to escape the boredom of everyday life and the constant badgering of Amanda. When Laura's crippling shyness leads her to drop out of both high school and secretarial school, Amanda becomes obsessed with finding a "gentleman caller" for her. Under constant pressure to help find someone for Laura, Tom finally invites co-worker Jim (Donato De Luca) to dinner.
Jeff Hinkle has done a great job with the staging of the piece. It moves beautifully and quickly from scene to scene. Andy Berkovsky's set is also wonderful, a mixture of period furniture and fabrics, against a wash of black which adds greatly to the fragmented sense of memory. I also found the lighting to be perfect for the piece; however, many of Tom's soliloquies had him in no light at all... which is a shame, because they are the truly stunning moments in the script. Veronica Prior's costumes were perfect for the period, especially the dress Amanda digs out of a trunk for the gentleman caller.
The acting in this production is mostly spot on. Donato De Luca is the picture of charm as Jim, the gentleman caller. Sarah Zeringue gives a lovely performance as Laura, and I was especially impressed with her physical work with Laura's limp. She absolutely lights up in the scene with Jim.
Terri Bennett captures the lighter side of Amanda Wingfield with style. We see her fluctuate between illusion and reality, using her escape mechanisms and playful games to escape the drudgery of her current situation. What we don't see, however, is the anger toward her absent husband that becomes focused on Tom. This is not a likeable quality in the character, and, without it, there really isn't any impetus for Tom to want to escape. I really wanted to see a bit more harridan come out, especially in her scenes with Tom.
Ben McLemore gives a solid performance as Tom and we see the frustration that comes from nothing he does being acceptable to Amanda: He doesn't make enough money, wastes his time seeing movies, smokes too much, drinks... he can't even eat a meal properly. However, what is lacking is a sense of the poet and the poetry inherent in the soliloquies. There was no sense of savoring the lyricism in those speeches to the audience. He's a poet and the audience should know that before he tells them because of the way those speeches are different from the rest of the play.
In all, THE GLASS MENAGERIE gets a lovely production here at City Theatre. These are only minor quibbles, the show is very much worth your time and money.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE by Tennessee Williams
Running time: Approximately Two Hours and Fifteen Minutes including one intermission.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE, produced by City Theatre (3823 Airport Blvd. Suite D., Austin, Tx.) July 22 - August 14, 2016.Thursday - Saturday 8:00 pm. Sunday 3:00 pm. General Seating $15. Front/2nd Row Reserved $20-25. Thursday all seats $10.