Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at SF Playhouse

What did our critic think of THE GLASS MENAGERIE at SF Playhouse?

By: May. 09, 2024
Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at SF Playhouse
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Tom Wingfield opens Tennessee William’s haunting memory play with this admonition: “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 the illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” What follows in this stunning production is a sometimes surreal, always emotionally devastating remembrance of a broken family teetering on the edges of disillusion and the hope of salvation.

Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at SF Playhouse
William Thomas Hogdson (Jim) and Jomar Tagatac (Tom)

Loosely based of William’s life and family, The Glass Menagerie has a simple plot line involving three members of the Wingfield clan- mother Amanda, who dotes of her past as a Southern belle, her daughter Laura, critically shy with no self-esteem and son Tom, an aspiring poet burdened with the support of his family. The three couldn’t be more separated by their individual traumas and bounce off each other like billiard balls after a break.

Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at SF Playhouse
Nicole Javier as Laura Wingfield.

Jomar Tagatac and Susi Damilano, two award-winning titans of the Bay Area theatre scene, are sensational in their dueling roles of struggling son and delusional matriarch. They command the first act with heartbreaking portrayals of wounded characters that would come to define William’s future themes – an almost obsessive doting of the past, the withholding of love, and the aimlessness of those without purpose. Nicole Javier is almost painfully awkward as Laura- quiet, shy, and unable to maneuver in the world. Rounding out the cast is William Thomas Hodgson as a potential suitor for Laura.

Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at SF Playhouse
Susi Damilano as matriarch Amanda Wingfield.

Directing phenom Jeffrey Lo (Chinglish, Hold These Truths, and The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin) conjures comic moments from the script to offset the tremendous weight of the characters emotional baggage. Amanda’s sing song “Rise and Shine” morning ritual is countered with Tom’s “I’ll rise, but I won’t shine” and both Damilano and Tagatac can raise a laugh with just a withering look. Lo’s opens the entire SF Playhouse stage, exposing its essence so we know it’s a play (characters sit on the sidelines like an athlete waiting for his chance to play). Combined with Christopher Fitzer’s revolving apartment set and Wen-Ling Liao’s brilliant lighting design, Lo accentuates the memory aspect, so we know this is not reality.

Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at SF Playhouse
Tom (Jomar Tagatac), Jim (William Thomas Hodgson) and Amanda (Susi Damilano ).

The second act centers on Laura and suitor Jim’s meeting. He represents the possibilities of a bright future and tries to show Laura that she is not a defected loser but just as common as anyone else. Her glass menagerie of animal figurines, specifically a unicorn, is a symbol of her peculiarity, lonesome as a result of being different from other horses. When the horn breaks off, perhaps Laura can join society and have a life.

Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at SF Playhouse
Nicole Javier (Laura), Tom (Jomar Tagatac), and Susi Damilano (Amanda).

There are no conclusions presented here, no sweet wrap up to the characters predicaments. Tom abandons his family just like his father did and he’s pained by that. Sometimes our birth families don’t work out as we expect, and we need to forge a new existence whatever that may look like.

The Glass Menagerie continues through June 15th. Tickets available at sfplayhouse.org or call the box office at 415-677-9596.

Photo credit: Jessica Palopoli



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