The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Eric Hill.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...Iím not patient. I donít want to wait till then."
Tom Story as Tom Wingfield; photo: Kevin Sprague
Tennessee Williams wrote his memory play, The Glass Menagerie, to exorcize the ghosts of his own childhood and youth in St. Louis when he was Tom, not Tennessee. He wrote of his sister, crippled by a mania that put her into hospitals and asylums, crippling his stage sister with a limp, socializing issues that were the mirror image of his real sisterís waywardness with men, and a reluctance to leave the house instead of her true desire to never stay home. He painted his mother in the play as a harridan who emotionally stalks her own children, when his own mother was an abused wife who over-protected her three children and financially supported her "poet" son; she reportedly never recognized herself in the portrait he painted of her in this play.
With all of the differences, Williamsí memory play is indeed a memory of his life in that nearly dim past of his family-entangled youth. The portrait of Tom, the son with a need for adventure, with a lack of patience, is Tennessee Williams and it is, perhaps, the most honest portrait of such a man in his formative years that we have in the American theater. On the Unicorn Stage at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge we have that portrait enlivened by a young actor who seems to restore the image to a vivid, vital life. Tom Story, as Tom Wingfield, born Tom Williams, is Tom.
For many fans of this play the final monologue, after Tomís departure from the family that cripples him, is the telling moment. Here, in Tom Storyís hands, it is a simple after-thought, a reluctant acceptance of the importance his sister and their mother played in his life. That simplicity is touching, and it brings to his face and voice the darkness in which he leaves them in the play.
As monologues go, and there are several in this play, the one that touches me the most is the one in the middle of the play when Tom reveals his need for adventure, for experience, for imagination and in it he destroys his motherís dreams for him and his sisterís favorite glass menagerie figurines. It is that smashing - right in the middle of this domestic drama - that provides us with a clear look at Tom Williams, the future playwright named Tennessee. As Tom Story plays this piece it is frightening and dynamic and the desperation in his voice and his body language tells us everything we need to know about the character and the man behind him.
As Amanda Wingfield, the mother from Hell, we have Kate Maguire. She leaves us with very few sympathetic moments for Amanda. Her rendition of the character is startlingly one-note and that note is a high-pitched c-sharp. She is demanding, coarse and curiously unloving, even as she states her love for her children to their faces. When she is transformed, in the second act, into the Belle of Blue Mountain, the change in her personality is reflected in the silver and pink of her dress. Her whole history is displayed in the tattered frills of her past and Maguire plays the sweetness of her characterís younger self without a single trace of embarrassment or even remorse. She becomes the obvious inspiration for her sonís own fantasies of himself as a central figure and she makes us understand her daughterís reluctance to compete with this motherís personal self-image. It is good work by an actress taking the difficult choices.
The Gentleman Caller, an obsession for Amanda, is played by Greg Keller whose pleasant face, body and voice make him an easy obsession for Laura and for Tom as well. He is charm personified. He is utterly likeable. The entire Wingfield family seems to be in love with this man, at least for an hour or so. Keller is an affable, likeable dinner guest, well cast in this role and nicely played, right down to his awkward exit from their lives.
The fascinating performance of the evening, however, the riveting center of the play in this edition, is Laura as played by Aya Cash. Vulnerability shines from her passive face and trembling hands. She portrays Laura with a smile that betrays fear and a glow that seems to be all that is evident of tears never shed. She lights up the stage with Lauraís disability, holding the visual evidence of it in check until she is forced to play the role of the vivacious daughter of a vivacious mother. The actress may not be the role, and yet after two hours with her it is hard to reconceive her as the actress, so clearly has she become the part she plays here. This may, in part, be due to the performance methods subscribed to by her director, Eric Hill, and yet it seems wrong to remove the reward of statue-like perfection from her shoulders and ascribe them only to her sculptor. My money is on Cash. She is a winner.
Eric Hill has created a wonderfully intriguing world for three people who circle one another emotionally and physically each of them prey and each of them scavenger. His work with the Wingfield family unit is perfect. When an intruder calls, the nice Gentleman of the play, his role as outsider is very clear: he is the fly in a web of spiders of all kinds, benevolent and predatory. His escape is almost like a miracle. That, in itself, is a tribute to the directorís work here.
Carl Spragueís wonderful set allows this American classic quartet the room and the world in which to play their parts. Olivera Gajicís costumes are very right for these characters. Only the lighting, designed by Matthew E. Adelson, seemed to leave something to be desires. He creates moods that are right, then spills light into the eyes of the audience in a most distracting manner altering our attention toward places where nothing occurs, where we should never be looking. Itís unfortunate because we miss a few key moments in these oddnesses of light.
An original score by Scott Killian adds the appropriate passion to the scenes and fills the need for a memory playís sense of reality versus unreality.
Without a doubt this production of The Glass Menagerie is something to see. Considering the mainstage season to come at the BTF, with both gay and lunatic themes abounding, this could be considered the overture, and like the overture to Jule Styneís GYPSY, or Leonard Bernsteinís CANDIDE, this is not one to miss.
Kate Maguire as Amanda; photo: Kevin Sprague
Greg Keller and Aya Cash; photo: Kevin Sprague
The Glass Menagerie plays, Thursdays through Saturdays with a few Sunday matinees, at the BTF's Unicorn Theatre on Route 7 in Stockbridge, MA through June 30. Tickets range from $38-$43 (students with a valid ID receive 50% off). Contact the BTF box office at 413-298-5576.