I had already had an enjoyable afternoon of theater with The Woodlands High School’s delightful “Sweet Charity,” and I was not really in the mood to make the evening drive to Conroe while missing Game One of the World Series. But I had committed to reviewing Crighton Theatre’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” and I don’t like to back out on a deal. Thank goodness I didn’t miss this stunning night of theater in order to view a disappointing performance by the New York Yankees!
Skillfully directed by Paul Sidenblad, this New York Drama Critics’ Best Play of 1944 tells the story of the Wingfields, a dysfunctional working class family in St. Louis. Terry Lynn Hale brilliantly portrays the nagging elderly mother, Amanda, in one of the finest dramatic performances I have ever seen. Always grasping for refinement and retelling her stories of long ago elegance, her Amanda is an endless fascination to watch, as Hale moves through the piece with such naturalness, grace, and perfect elocution that she seems born for the stage. When she steps out on the porch to breathe the night air and gaze at the moon, it is as though we in the audience can see the moon, too.
Playing the withdrawn, handicapped, and very shy daughter, Laura, is talented Catherine Restivo, who nicely combines Laura’s pathetic aspects with a layer of sweet tenderness. In his dual role as narrator and Laura’s brother, Tom, Brian Hughes, gives a powerful and compelling performance. Stuck in a dull factory job to support the family, Tom longs for adventure and retreats to the movies for relief. He is weary of his mother’s endless diatribes about the quest for a “gentleman caller’ for his unemployed and unmarried sister, Laura. When she is not walking in the park while pretending to be at business school, Laura broods around the house dusting her collection of miniature glass animals. Overall, it is not a pretty picture.
What makes the gritty piece palpable is Williams’ brilliant use of language and humor. While certainly not billed as a comedy, the character clashes in this drama are full of laughs in the capable hands of these fine actors. The dramatic dynamite of the interplay between the badgering Amanda and her frustrated son, Tom, is often hilarious. But sparks fly, and layers of desperation surround all the characters. It is a skillful blend of the comic and the serious.
The staging was cleverly three dimensional, with living room, bedroom, dining room and porch all visible on the stage. The soft lighting (designer, Justin Woods) added to the eerie glow. Sound technician, Gary Rogers, provided gentle ragtime musical interludes that added to the atmosphere as they drifted across the alley from the nearby Paradise Dance Hall. Also worthy of note were the memorization skills of the small cast of actors. There were many long monologues, especially from mother and son, which were flawlessly delivered with all the sense of poetry that Williams intended.
The Act II arrival of the gentleman caller, Jim O’Connor (Jerry Futch) brings another fine actor to the stage. His good-humored and warm characterization helps to illuminate the mysteries of shy Laura as he comforts her with words like, “It’s okay to be disappointed, but not to be discouraged.” Their touching scene in the candle light was memorable as Laura took on a momentary glow while showing off her glass menagerie. But Williams is not content to leave us with a happy ending when Jim turns out to be engaged to another, and Tom follows in the footsteps of the father who left home years before. Perhaps Amanda summed it up best: “Well, well, well! Things have a way of turning out so badly!” But not so for this production which turned out so superbly. Applause seemed an insufficient reward for such uniformly brilliant performances. But I am luckier than most, having this opportunity to give much deserved credit where credit is due.
(The Villager 10.23.03)
(The Courier 11.2.03)