The Glass Menagerie ~ 2018

Strong Cast Creates Poignant Dysfunctional Family Story

The Glass Menagerie, the almost-autobiographical story of Tennessee Williams, is timeless.  First produced in 1944, it is set in the mid-1930s when Williams was a young man. This dysfunctional family story, now on the McManus stage at London’s Grand Theatre, transcends the decades.

At first glance, it’s a story about a mother and daughter relationship.  Mother is a southern belle who expected to marry a rich plantation owner.  But instead, she married a handsome, charming telephone man who “fell in love with long distance”.  Although he hasn’t been seen in years, there is a photo of him smiling on the wall.

There are shades of the recent acclaimed movie, Ladybird, in the mother and daughter relationship.  Mother can’t accept that the daughter is a little bit different; she wants her daughter to be just like her.  But is it really about the mother and daughter?  It’s actually Tom’s story; he is the narrator telling it from his memory, reliving all the pain and frustration. 

Tom is feeling trapped – he’s forced to work at a boring warehouse job to support his mother and his sister when he’d rather be writing poetry.  Laura, his sister, is withdrawn.  She is physically disabled with a slight limp that embarrasses her.  The mother, Amanda, believes that Laura’s lack of social skills is just shyness, and with enough prodding, Laura will get over it and become charming like her mother.  Amanda also pushes son Tom.  She constantly nags at him about table manners, smoking, and going out.  She is obsessed with the idea that Tom must bring home a “gentleman caller” for Laura.  Finally, Tom brings home his one friend from work.  Tom makes plans to leave, even though the matchmaking fails.

Stephen Jackman-Torkoff is an interesting and flamboyant Tom.  It is heartbreaking to see this gay, young man trapped in a job he hates, not living the life he longs for.  Like his absent father, he has wanderlust.  Jackman-Torkoff is excellent in showing that, despite how irritating his mother is, he still loves her.

Sarah Orenstein is perfect as Amanda.  She maintains the proper accent, along with the mannerisms and posture of a southern belle.  In act one, there are many laughs in the sparring between Amanda and Tom.  The audience can see the humour in Amanda’s clinging to the old gentility and her determination not to face the reality of the times and their poor financial situation.

Amy Keating is endearing as Laura.  Her shyness and anxiety are palpable.  Keating makes Laura childlike, without being childish.

Alexander Crowther as Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller, is just cocky enough, but still likeable.  You get the sense that he isn’t kissing Laura to take advantage of her, but it is his genuine attempt at helping her overcome her inferiority complex.

With Tom hitting the road, we are left to think about the various ways their lives will go on.  Will things get better for Tom as he roams around?  Will Laura’s confidence grow after her visit from a gentleman caller?

Theatre-in-the-round works well for this play.  Tom’s big gestures seem even larger in the circular setting.  Amanda’s pacing is enhanced by the circular stage.  The set is lit by overhead intersecting circles and glass balls, but they seem too cheery for the dull, small apartment.  In act one, there is a table with chairs, but in act two, when the gentleman caller comes for dinner, the table is gone, with the chairs set far apart as they have their meal.  I assume this is a message about their disjointed lives, but we can hear it in the words they are saying.  It would have more impact if they were seated at a table.  Later, the set works well as Laura and Jim sit together in the candlelight, in preparation for the romance that doesn’t happen.

The Glass Menagerie was Williams’ first play to gain great success.  After that, he wrote other hits:  A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  These plays put him in the same category with other theatrical classics, such as Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

I’ve had the opportunity to see The Glass Menagerie on stage twice before.  Each production is different, with each director interpreting the characters in different ways.  No one way was better than the others.  This is what makes a great play – any way you look at it, you are left with thoughts to ponder, and much to consider.  Take advantage of this chance to see The Glass Menagerie and consider its message. If you’ve never seen it, this is a must-see.  If you’ve seen it before, see it again.  This production might make you reconsider the message.

The Glass Menagerie continues at the Grand Theatre, McManus Stage, in London until April 14.  Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.

Photo: Amy Keating as Laura Wingfield and Alexander Crowther as the Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie. Photo by Christina Kuefner.

The Glass Menagerie ~ 2018
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Megan Watson
Performed by Alexander Crowther, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Amy Keating, Sarah Orenstein.
Produced by Grand Theatre
McManus Stage, Grand Theatre, London
April 3 to 14, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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