BWW Reviews: A Lovely Traditional 70th Anniversary Production of GLASS MENAGERIE at Greenway Court

The Glass Menagerie/by Tennessee Williams/directed by Jack Heller/Greenway Court Theatre/through June 14

For many, Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie remains his finest play. Semi-autobiographical, the play takes place in St. Louis during the Depression and depicts the relationships between a restless alcoholic factory worker, wannabe writer, his overbearing mother and his psychologically deficient sister - all of which stems from Williams' actual background. Williams finds his voice in Tom. (Brian Foyster)

Currently at the Greenway Court, Jack Heller directs a beautifully traditional production in honor of the play's 70th anniversary. At the top Tom takes the guise of a merchant marine as narrator and introduces what is to follow as a memory play. His mother Amanda Wingfield (Lisa Richards) is a tower of Southern strength, pushing her children to become all that they can be, yet keeping them reliant on her and her traditional ways, clawing and needling to the point where Tom wants only to escape and join the merchant marine. Tom is a writer who works in a factory. He must support his mother and sister and is stuck without any other means of employment. Sister Laura (Kerry Knuppe) is a shy girl with a limp who keeps a glass menagerie as her only source of pleasure apart from an old worn out phonograph collection left to them by their father, a telephone man who up and left them, according to Tom, "he fell in love with long distance". Amanda wants a husband for Laura and pesters Tom to bring home a gentleman caller, a possible suitor, as poor Laura is fast becoming an old maid with no prospects.

The beauty of Williams' writing is the that he creates within the darkly-lit memory play an easy access to reality and fantasy. There's the shabby tenement in which the Wingfields live as well as their bare-bones wardrobe. Then, there are the dreamlike musical sounds from the old dance hall across the alley. Tom runs out at night and takes refuge at the movies, sort of like Laura tending to her glass animals. Even Amanda has her flights of fancy as she likes to live and talk about her girlhood with 17 gentleman callers, and bouquets and bouquets of jonquils flooding her home. Who wouldn't want to escape the Depression and find some source of temporary comfort in a harmless pastime, as long as it doesn't waste one's existence? But, alas for Amanda and Laura, time is running out. The fourth character in the play Jim O'Conner (Patrick Joseph Rieger) brings reality into the apartment with his visit. His down.home good nature and enthusiasm for public speaking and technology make him a man on the up and up. Dissatisfied with the factory. he is trying, unlike Tom, whom he nicknames Shakespeare, to make something successful of his life. He dreams too, but at least attends night classes to help bring about some personal transition. Jim was a classmate of Tom and Laura's in high school. Laura had a crush on him but because of her terrible shyness, could never tell him how she felt. When he comes to dinner and recognizes Laura for who she is, he boosts her self-confidence. Sadly, he is engaged to another, so this 'dinner date' with Laura is the only experience she will have with him.

Under Jack Heller's loving direction, all the actors flesh out their characters magnificently and find their own breathing space within the confines of the limited scenario. Richards is a marvel as Amanda, the mother who lived to love her children. Without every going over the top, hers is a grounded, yet luminous performance with exuberantly lovely flights of fancy. Foyster keeps Tom completely believable as well, living each uncomfortable moment with a deeply felt need for freedom. Knuppe is perfect as Laura, evoking every nuance of self-consciousness and fear. Rieger offers the typical nice-guy qualities of the Gentleman Caller: extremely affable and open, most abundantly polite, with a glimmer of ego and self-confidence, just enough to set him apart from the others. All four actors render model performances.

Joel Daavid's wonderful set design evokes the period to perfection. The old, run down apartment is replete with priceless nick-nacks, old furniture and props which give it a style all its own. Williams would be proud of this Glass Menagerie. It retains every syllable of his gorgeous poetry and because of the superb direction and performances, it is terribly entertaining, emotionally engaging and ultimately fulfilling. Don't miss it!

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From This Author Don Grigware