Just four characters appear on stage to present this glimpse into the lives of the Wingfields, and one set. The audience can feel the forced containment of dreams, yearning and emotions. The play is at times so personal and private, we feel like voyeurs, and squirm in our seats with discomfort. And that means the Public Theater has a done a good job.
As Tom, Fisher Neal quickly creates a connection with the audience. Tom is at the side of the story at times, watching as we are watching. Cathryn Wake is a heartbreaking Laura, as fragile as the glass figurines she covets. Wake's portrayal is a complete one, conveying a complex person who is reduced to a few traits. As Laura socializes with the Gentleman Caller, in the form of Jim O'Connor, who is brought to the house in the desperate hope of finding a suitor for Laura, she finally, slowly, begins to open, like a flower. But just so far. Jordan Whalen's Jim is a well-meaning and simple glad-hander, his development checked at at high school.
Amanda Wingfield is a dream role for actresses of a certain age, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Lynne Wintersteller's performance is a gift to the audience. Still a Southern belle in her own mind, her Amanda is clearly on the edge; her constant stream of thinking out loud, nagging, reminiscing, and nudging forms a wavering balance between holding it together and losing it. At resting state, her southern accent is slightly more than a hintbut she pours it on when trying to charm. This Amanda seems real, even with her florid affectations and sweeping gestures. She's the center and the target of this play, and Wintersteller makes this an exemplary production.
Michael Schweikardt's set is straightforward, complete and suitable. It doesn't get in the way of the performances, and that's a compliment. Costuming by Suzanne Chesney is perfect (even "that" dress), and lighting (Rui Rita) and sound (Zach Moore) are provided in just the right amount and at just the right level.
It's always good to see Pamela Berlin listed as director, and with this production does her best work for the Public.
The Glass Menagerie was the Public Theater's first play, presented 40 years ago. Berlin and cast honor the Public with this memorable production, as the company begins another 40 years.
The Glass Menagerie runs through November 2, 2014, at the O'Reilly Theater. For performance and ticket information, visit http://ppt.org/.