Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at Pioneer Theatre Company

By: Oct. 28, 2016
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Before A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, and SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, Tennessee Williams wrote his most autobiographical play, THE GLASS MENAGERIE.

The Pioneer Theatre Company sterling production of this classic reminds us why the play has stood the test of time. Under the direction of Mary B. Robinson, the emotionally intricate performances illuminate the text. This GLASS MENAGERIE is indestructibly beautiful, with a quartet of vivid performances.

Williams coined the term memory play, and the play's narrator/main character shares many attributes of the playwright and indeed his family members. Williams speaks directly to the audience via the character of Tom Wingfield, to make clear that we are watching his recollections. "I am the opposite of a stage magician," he explains. "He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion." Zachary Prince comfortably plays the role of Tom. He plays a man trapped between the need to support his family by working in a warehouse and his deep desire to break free on his own.

The most difficult character to portray in THE GLASS MENAGERIE is Tom's mother, the manipulative and controlling Amanda. A gifted and focused actor, Nance Williamson, a veteran of PTC stages, is somehow able to make her domineering character likeable and sympathetic. Amanda's husband has left her years ago and she won't let go of the memories of her gentile Southern upbringing, while she fretts over the future of her daughter, Laura.

Hanley Smith warmly plays the painfully shy Laura. Hers is a empathetic and measured performance; the character is at once girlish but she also recognizes that her moment has passed. Though he's only on stage for the second act, the strongest performance comes from Logan James Hall as Laura's would-be suitor, Jim O'Connor, a "gentleman caller" that Tom has invited to a family dinner. The scenes with Laura and Jim are touching and memorable.

Each of the production elements of this excellent staging of THE GLASS MENAGERIE is excellent and serves to enforce the multiple layers of the Williams' story. Jason Simms' evocative scenic design is yet a another highlight of the production. Also superb is the costume design by Tracy Christensen. The lighting design by Kirk Bookman conjures just the right mood.