By Tennessee Williams
Performed by Seana McKenna, Sara Topham, Steven Sutcliffe, Matthew MacFadzean
Directed by Miles Potter
Stratford Festival Production
May 13 – October 22, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Glass Menagerie an emotional, exhausting journey
At the completion of the Stratford production of The Glass Menagerie, one feels as worn out as the as the characters. The two woman are exhausting – Amanda because of her constant chatter about her glorious past as a southern belle, and Laura because she is pitiful. These two female characters are so well portrayed that the audience is dragged on the emotional trip with them.
Seana McKenna is excellent as Amanda Wingfield. She is the image of faded southern charm. Her transition from gushing to maintain appearances, to becoming angry with Tom is smooth and believable. McKenna is far more interesting in this role than as Olivia in Twelfth Night.
Similarly, Sara Topham excels as the lost soul, Laura Wingfield. Her vacant stare is a realistic portrayal of Laura’s simple-mindedness. She handles the challenging role well – the audience knows Laura isn’t stupid, just backward and a little slow. Topham is fascinating to watch as the different emotions appear across her face; she is far more remarkable as Laura than her stilted portrayal of Dona Elvira in Don Juan.
The Glass Menagerie is an often-performed favourite by Tennessee Williams. Amanda Wingfield was once an upper-class southern belle who had as many as 17 gentleman callers in one day. Unfortunately, she chose the wrong one – she married a telephone man, and “he was in love with long distance”. He apparently was a drinker who abandoned his family. That left Amanda to raise her two children. Laura is physically handicapped with a limp. She also has a mental disability, although the family never speaks of it, and pretends it doesn’t exist. Amanda believes that Laura’s lack of social skills are just shyness, and with enough prodding and pushing, Laura will get over it and become charming like her mother.
Amanda also pushes son Tom. He works in a warehouse at a job he hates, to support the two women. Amanda constantly nags at him about table manners, smoking, and going out, treating him like a child. She becomes obsessed with the idea that Tom must bring home a “gentleman caller” for Laura.
Steven Sutcliffe is good as Tom. He narrates the story – we hear of the events from his memory and his point of view. While it’s obvious that his mother is really irritating him and driving him away, Sutcliffe also manages to show that Tom still has some good times with his mother. This portrayal of the love-hate relationship is probably typical of many families.
Matthew MacFadzean gives a fine interpretation of Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller. He seems to genuinely enjoy his visit, and sincerely tries to build Laura’s confidence. MacFadzean is able to show that Jim likes Laura, but he’s not going to fall in love with her.
The lighting for The Glass Menagerie is excellent – it works well with the concept of this story being related from Tom’s memory. The set is a well done as a drab apartment of the 1930’s era, complete with the metal day bed in the living room, and an old Victrola.
Director Miles Potter offers audiences a fascinating look at a somewhat dysfunctional family, pulling us into their fantasies and then smacking us with their reality. In taking us on this journey, he drags us through their emotions. Is it uplifting entertainment? No, but it’s a slice of life, well written by Williams and well acted by a gifted cast.
The Glass Menagerie continues at the Avon Theatre, Stratford until October 22. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordfestival.ca.