BWW Review: Fragile MENAGERIE Flourishes Because of Strong Characters
Amanda Wingfield, the centerpiece of Tennessee Williams' 1944 masterpiece, THE GLASS MENAGERIE, is much like the staple Southern hospitality, the lemon meringue pie. On the outside, she appears to be all sugar and whipped cream but the topping only provides a thin layer to cover a curt, tart filling.
Gina Handy brings that character to life in the Short North Stage's production of the play that vaulTEd Williams from unknown writer to one of the premier Southern playwrights. The four-person show opened Sept. 7 and runs through Oct. 1 at the Garden Theatre's Green Room (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus).
THE GLASS MENAGERIE, which is thought to be loosely based on Williams' life, follows the Wingfield family's hardscrabble existence in St. Louis during the Depression Era. After their father deserts the family, the Wingfields try to survive on the meager wages son Tom Wingfield (played by Scott Hunt) earns as a factory worker as their mother pins the family's hopes on having daughter Laura (Jeanette Newton) marry into a well-to-do family. Only one suitor emerges, Jim O'Connor (Evin Hoffman) and, as it turns out, he's engaged.
The fading Southern matriarch trying to survive in a world of diminishing returns is a reoccurring theme in Williams' work (See A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE'S Blanche). Wearing a cast on her right arm, Handy controls the tempo of the show as she alternates from a paragon of Southern hospitality to an iron-fisted ball of hostility.
In his role as dutiful but resentful Tom, Hunt serves as the audience's tour guide through the Wingfield's fragile existence. Hunt brings a dark Steve Buscemi quality to his character as a son who has grown weary of being the sole provider for his demanding mother and sister.
In contrast to the warring factions of her fractured family, Newton plays Laura as a character as fragile as the animals in her glass menagerie. The way her eyes light up with the chance encounter with her high school crush Jim and she tries to hide her disappointment when she finds out Jim is engaged is equal part of intoxicating and heartbreaking.
The Green Room and its thrust theatre arraignment provides an intimate atmosphere for the audience, creating the sensation of being a voyeur into the Wingfield's living room. The two act play runs a little over two hours but thanks to its quick blackouts between scenes, it moves briskly. By the time it finished, many the theater goers wanted an extra slice of lemon meringue pie.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE will have an extended run at the Garden Theater's Green Room (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus) with 8 p.m. shows Sept. 7-9, 14-16, 21-23 and 28-30 and 3 p.m. matinees on Sept. 9-10, 16-17, 24-25 and Oct. 1. Call 614-725-4042 for information.