The Glass Menagerie
Also see Susan's review of Radio Golf
While Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is evanescent by designa memory piece, as shimmering as light shining through glassit needs solidly grounded performances if it is to work. Director Jim Petosa has brought together four fine actors for his production at the Olney Theatre Center's black-box space in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.
Petosa has worked with his scenic designers, James Kronzer and Jeremy W. Foil, to bring the audience in the intimate Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab into the shabby St. Louis apartment of the Wingfield family. Realistic fire escapes border the dreamlike apartment, equipped only with the most necessary pieces of furniture (dining-room chairs but no table; a row of cushions instead of a sofa). The one piece that seems not to fit is the ruin of an upright piano, looking like a grinning skeleton, past which the audience has to walk.
Petosa originally staged The Glass Menagerie last year at Boston University, and the Olney production benefits from the presence of two actors from that cast: Paula Langton as the indomitable Amanda Wingfield and Michael Kaye as her restless son (and playwright stand-in) Tom. While Amanda can be a larger-than-life archetype of self-sacrificing martyrdom for the sake of her children, Langton makes her beautifully accessible, more like the kind of fanatically devoted mother one might actually know. Kaye's performance is quiet on the surface but seethes with Tom's repressed frustration and resentment.
Briel Banks embodies Laura's essential fragility through her wide eyes, her face that plainly reveals her shifts of emotion (Petosa makes her reaction the centerpiece of one of the arguments between Amanda and Tom by moving them offstage), and her tentative manner of walking.
Petosa has made an interesting choice in portraying Jim O'Connor (Jeffries Thaiss), the long-awaited "gentleman caller" for Laura, as less a faded golden boy than self-consciously slick and, in his way, as insecure as she is. The famous scene between them, then, is a meeting between equals.
Daniel McLean Wagner's lighting design and Matthew Nielson's sound design intensify the dramatic effects without becoming intrusive. That is not quite true of Nicole V. Moody's costumes: one dress in particular is striking and beautiful, but not quite right for the character.
Olney Theatre Center