Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The Wurtele affords directors a large space in which to frame their work, well suited to sprawling canvasses of Shakespeare and large musical productions like last summer's Guys and Dolls. The Glass Menagerie takes place in the small St. Louis apartment of faded Southern belle Amanda Wingfield and her two children: Laura who suffers from a physical and an even greater emotional handicap; and Tom, who seethes with the desire to break away from his mother's grip and chart his own course. Haj opens up the Wingfields' claustrophobic world with room for each to stand apart, and we can see them flailing for a lifesaver to keep them afloat.
The space also allows for a vast, starry sky above. I don't believe the theater's space has ever seemed as immense. Glistening light reflected from bits of glass hung from high above form stars that cast the Wingfields' troubles as very small matters in the context of the great cosmos, and yet Tom, Laura and Amanda are each a part of that cosmos. It is akin to how we see the Milky Way in the night sky, believing it to be far away, when our planet is actually a part of it. The play becomes an ethereal memory, a tiny speck in the universe, but as valuable as any of the other tiny specks which form the unfathomable whole.
The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, identified as such right from the start by an older Tom Wingfield, looking back at his life as a young man in depression era St. Louis. It is generally agreed that Williams inserted a great deal of his own life into this play. To begin, his narrator, whose point of view guides the story, shares the playwright's initials. At age eight, Williams' family moved from Mississippi to St. Louis where his father took a job with the International Shoe Company. The unseen father in Glass Menagerie abandoned his wife and children well before the play opens. Williams' father did not do so, but his job required him to be away on business travel a great deal, and the marriage was a most unhappy one.
Williams' father pulled him out of the University of Missouri in his junior year and put him to work at the International Shoe Company. To compensate for the monotony and drudgery he suffered there, Williams began to write obsessively. Tom also works for a shoe company, which weighs on him like a yoke of bricks. He writes poetry to keep his mind and imagination from calcifying until his dream of escape is realized. Aside from the unfulfilling work, Tom needs to flee from his mother's constant criticisms and endless ruminating over her gracious Southern life as a child and young lady, with a parade of gentleman callers, all sons of prominent men. Why, on one occasion, she entertained seventeen gentleman callers all on the same night! She gave all that up when she married Tom's father, who won her over with the only thing of value he had to offer, his smile.
When she isn't adrift in a reverie about her genteel past, Amanda goads Tom about the fix she and his older sister Laura will be in if he can't do more to provide for them, and she cajoles Tom to find a nice young man for Laura to marry. Laura has had no prospects. Her leg deformity, acute shyness, and lack of self-esteem have kept her from attaining any life beyond playing old Victrola records and fawning over her collection of glass animal figurines, disparagingly dubbed Laura's "glass menagerie" by Amanda. Williams' own older sister, Rose, suffered from mental illness. She was diagnosed later in her life as schizophrenic and lived her adult life in institutions.
The fourth character on stage in is Jim O'Connor, a co-worker at the shoe company whom Tom invites to have dinner with his family. Whether or not there was a counterpart to Jim O'Connor in Williams' life, the arrival of this visitor, whom Amanda declares to be Laura's gentleman caller, come at last, is a catalyst that changes the course of the Wingfield family.
Although Tom Wingfield is the narrator whose voice gives context to the story, Amanda Wingfield is the showiest role, She traverses emotional peaks and valleys, goes into rages and waxes nostalgic, and deludes herself into believing she can control her diminishing world. Jennifer Van Dyck is a splendid Amanda, gliding with the grace ingrained in Amanda as a child, adept at tossing bitterly conceived witticisms at her son, playing all the parts that her mind has indexed as hers to play. When Laura objects to Amanda's plan because it feels like they are "setting a trap" to attain a husband for Laura, Amanda brightly responds "We are! All pretty girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be," declared as if it is the happiest news ever delivered to a fair maiden.
Remy Auberjonois is deeply moving as Tom. The actor is older than Toms often are, meaning, as the narrator he is looking back at this crossroads early in his life after the passing of more years. Williams was 33 when The Glass Menagerie opened, so, if he identified himself with Tom Wingfield, the narrator was looking back ten to fifteen years, which is how Tom is typically cast. Yet, when Auberjonois plays the young Tom (which is the majority of the play), he does not seem too old, but rather brings to bear the memory of a man well into middle age who still carries with him the scars and dreams that shaped his journey as it was just beginning. Auberjonois brings passion to his youthful Tom, expressing frustrating and venting anger with a young man's disregard for where it lands. As middle-aged Tom, looking back, he is serenely reflective, now understanding how he came to be himself.
Carey Cox gives a lovely performance as Laura, conveying the reclusive young woman's sweetly self-effacing character, while a glimmer of her deeply hidden frustrations is discreetly revealed. Cox is well versed in the role, having understudied the part in the 2017 Broadway revival. She is also very familiar with the physical challenges Laura faces, as she lives with a genetically based disability (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) that effects connective tissues. As Jim O'Connor, Grayson DeJesus offers a perfect balance of brash confidence and insightful sensitivity, almost everything that Laura needs. When he tells Laura "Being disappointed is one thing and being discouraged is something else. I am disappointed but I am not discouraged," his bright delivery inspires hope for anyone who has suffered the hard knocks of life, even Laura.
Jack Herrick has composed a lovely score that complements the wispy, star-dappled landscape of Tom's memory. The stark three-level fire escape that serves as the Wingfields' porch is strikingly realized in Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams's set design. Christopher Akerlind's lighting and Darron L. West's sound design, with music from the dance hall down the alley stealthily visiting the Wingfield home, meld together to create an effectively holistic stage environment. Raquel Barreto's costumes are period perfect, with Amanda's faded party dress having the right patina of lost elegance.
Being around as long as it has been, The Glass Menagerie has been seen by a great many theatergoers. If you have never seen it, this beautiful production is essential. If you have ever seen and liked the play, a revisit is well worth your while. Haj has found all the tenderness, the pain and regret within the story, and also reveals the humor that Williams adeptly wove through the play, yielding many hearty laughs. At the end, though, these wounded souls, as fragile as glass animals, remind us how precious our solid footing is, to cherish what we have, and to hold a measure of kindness for those whose footing has failed them.
The Glass Menagerie runs through October 27, 2019, at Guthrie Theater, Wurtele Thrust Stage, 818 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis MN. Tickets are $25.00 to $79.00. Seniors (65+), college students (with ID) $3.00 - $6.00 off per ticket. Military personnel, veterans and their families 15% discount per ticket. Public Rush line for unsold seats 1530 minutes before performance, up to four tickets, $20.00 - $25,00, cash or check only. Free admission for members of Dramatists Guild of America. For tickets call 612-377-2224 or go to GuthrieTheater.org.
Playwright: Tennessee Williams; Director: Joseph Haj; Set Design: Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams; Costume Design: Rachel Barreto; Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind; Sound Design: Darron L. West; Composer: Jack Herrick; Movement Director: Maija Garcia; Dramaturg: Carla Steen; Voice Coach: Jill Walmsley Zager; Stage Manager: Timothy Markus; Assistant Stage Manager: Kathryn Sam Houkom; Assistant Director: Tracey Maloney; NYC Casting Consultant: McCorkle Casting, Ltd.; Design Assistants: Lisa Jones (costumes), Ryan Connealy (lighting), Reid Rejsa (sound)
Cast: Remy Auberjonois (Tom Wingfield), Carey Cox (Laura Wingfield), Grayson DeJesus (Jim O'Connor), Jennifer Van Dyck (Amanda Wingfield).