Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Glass Menagerie comes to Lakewood

by Alec Clayton  
Laura (Jess Weaver) and Jim (Nick Fitzgerald), photo by Tim Johnson
Tennessee Williams was a genius, and Lakewood Playhouse does more than justice to his masterpiece, The Glass Menagerie. Williams’ plays are among the best in what many consider the golden age of American drama — because he makes complex human emotions seem simple and because he writes such inventive lines as “…the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity” (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and “He s a telephone man who fell in love with long distance” (The Glass Menagerie). And for his wonderful use of metaphor, such as in the title itself — Laura’s glass menagerie or collection of tiny glass animals is a metaphor for Laura’s fragile psyche and the broken lives of all the characters.
The structure of Menagerie, with narrator Tom Wingfield (Niclas Olson) stepping in and out of the character and even signaling when lights should be turned up or down, is a masterful stroke and one of the most inventive uses of “breaking the fourth wall” I have seen. Olson and Director Micheal O’Hara can be credited with this. Williams left such innovations up to the producing companies, along with freedom to interpret lighting and sound, which Sound Designer and Playhouse Artistic Director John Munn, along with Lighting Director Aaron Mohs-Hale did in a way Munn calls cinematic. Both were dramatically effective.
from left: Tom (Niclas Olson), Laura, and Amanda (Dayna Childs), photo by Tim Johnson
Tom works a job he hates and longs to get away from the stifling home he shares with his domineering mother, Amanda (Dayna Childs) and his painfully withdrawn sister, Laura (Jess Weaver). Laura’s debilitating shyness is masterfully and painfully enacted by Weaver. The character was based on Williams’ sister Rose, who ended up in a mental hospital and was lobotomized.
Amanda tries to live her life as a Gone with the Wind-era Southern belle and wants nothing so much as to find a “gentleman caller” to romance Laura. That gentleman caller appears in the guise of Jim O’Connor (Nick Fitzgerald), a workmate of Tom’s who is invited for dinner. Jim is charming, and he gently draws Laura out of her self-imposed shell, but there is cruel thoughtlessness underneath his charm.
Menagerie is Williams’ most autobiographic play. Tom is clearly Williams, and Laura and Amanda are based on his mother and sister. Tom as the narrator even states as much, calling the play a “memory play.” Williams was gay, and there has been much speculation that Tom is a closeted gay man. But the only hint to this in the play is that he goes to the movies every night and does not come home until the wee hours of the morning. Amanda thinks he’s up to something else and not really going to the movies.
The pacing and the direction by Micheal O’Hara is excellent, as are James Venturini’s set design and Mohs-Hale’s lighting design. The ensemble cast is smack-on, especially Olson and Weaver. Childs’ over-the-top take on the clichéd Southern belle is hard to take, and some might think unrealistic, but I lived in the Deep South and I know that such characters existed when this play is set, and there were still a few around when I left the South in 1988.
The Glass Menagerie is a sad and depressing play. It is almost three hours long, including intermission. Yet I came away stimulated and not depressed. It is a great play, beautifully produced and acted.

The Glass Menagerie
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m., through March 11
Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
(253) 588-0042, https://www.lakewoodplayhouse.org/

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