Tennessee Williams memory play “The Glass Menagerie” still resonates after all these years. It opened in Chicago in 1944 and subsequently moved to The Playhouse Theatre in New York in 1945. It went on to win the New York Drama Critics Awards. It is currently in a sobering, yet oft times superficially funny production in Broadway Vista Theatre (‘The biggest Little Theatre’) through March 22nd.
|Set design by Randall Hickman|
The play is set in the St. Louis apartment of Amanda Wingfield (Terri Park) and her two adult children, Laura (Marisa Taylor Scott) and Tom (Tim Baran). The time is 1937 and the country was in the middle of the depression. Tom works in a shoe factory (Williams sold shoes for a time) and Amanda sells magazine subscriptions from her home, much beneath her status as a genteel Southern belle when a young girl.
Money is tight but hope springs eternal for Amanda, the faded yet once popular belle, as she glides around their apartment recalling her glory days as a teen growing up in the south. Her repeating and reliving her past encounters with her own ‘gentlemen callers’(seventeen in one day) fascinates Laura, who longs for a gentleman caller of her own, but it annoys the hell out of Tom.
|Terri Park and Tim Baran as Tom|
Amanda doesn’t comprehend why none come to call on Laura, her emotionally fragile daughter whose noticeable limp has her cut off from reality and plunges her into a make believable world of a glass animal collection, her favorite being the unicorn, a solitary and mysterious creature, much like Laura was to her mother.
Baran’s Tom is narrator (Williams alter ego) speaking directly to the audience while also assuming the role of Tom: “The stage magician gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."
As narrator breaking the fourth wall, he tells us that he would rather be any place than at his mother’s house. He longs for adventure, action and escape. He’s annoyed at her nagging, her interfering, her stories of past glories and her pettiness. Everything he does; drinking, writing and spending most of his off hours at the movies, a tale Amanda refuses to believe, pushes him closer to leaving. The one thing he can’t ignore is his affection for his sister.
|Nathan Wetter as Jim and Marisa Taylor Scott is Laura|
Nathan Wetter’s Jim O'Connor Laura’s one gentleman caller is a breath of fresh air. His mere presence in the Wingfield’ s home casts an unusually broad shadow bringing with it a sense of hope and optimism even though his own dreams have been shattered. A popular athlete in high school and someone Laura once had a crush on and now a shipping clerk at the same shoe factory as Tom, his invitation to dine with the Wingfield’s brings a ray of hope for Amanda.
His repartee with Laura is sincere, convincing and winning and one that many hoped would have turned out differently for Laura. Wetter fills the bill perfectly as Jim. Unfortunately for Amanda who had high hopes for Jim, it began and ended in one evening. This is a tragedy of Greek proportions after all.
And so the last words that Tom speaks, “Blow out your candles, Laura, - and so goodbye.” breaks your heart as Tom, the one ally Laura has leaves the house to the two emotionally fragile women who are left to their own devices to survive; one’s imagination wanders to the next step.
‘Menagerie’ was Williams’ first successful professional play and his most autobiographical. Laura or Rose, his sister, (as was her given name), who was thought to be mentally ill because of her instability, underwent a frontal lobotomy that just about sent her brother over the edge. Some even suggesting that it was the cause of his heavy drinking
|Tim Baran, Terri Park and Marisa Taylor Scott|
Williams would later expand on this literary form as he showed us in his ‘Menagerie’ with matriarch Amanda and her mood swings, (look at Blanche in “Streetcar”) her almost hysterical yearnings for her lost youth, her daughter’s inability to cope and her son’s threat of leaving them. Tom was, after all, the primary breadwinner in the family. He was so much like his absent father, the one character never seen but for a photograph on the wall, that his leaving was but a matter of time.
Doug Davis and Randall Hickman producers, set designers, lighting designers, costume designers, you name it are a two person dynamic duo responsible for the whole ball of wax including the choice of plays selections. According to Davis, ‘he and Randall love Williams and wanted to include one of his plays in this year’s lineup.’ On the lighter side, “Beau Jest” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs” (Neil Simon’s first of his ‘B’ trilogy) follow.
|Nathan Wetter and Marisa Taylor Scott|
Hickman directs as well as digging in on other projects to make this production user friendly. His set design is especially attractive, somewhat easily navigable in such a small space, slightly off center as are the characters, and on spot time period with props by both men adding touches into a glimpse of the times.
Under his direction the ensemble worked well together but individually, the overall the production was uneven on opening night. Terri Parks putting in a very strong Amanda, with every detail of her as the domineering mother and head of household was on target. Its no wonder Marisa Taylor Scott’s Laura cowered under strong personality and Tom recoiled from her. She just didn’t get it.
|Terri Park and Maisa Taylor Scott|
Some grievances that distracted include the fact that Baran’s projection and enunciation wasn’t clear enough to meet my listening standards and Ms. Scott’s almost senile behavior (while it might have been in the script, she was painfully shy, delicate and compassionate and to my recollection an ‘emotional cripple’, but not senile) was disturbing.
And stepping off my soapbox, if there is one theatre or ten mounting a Tennessee Williams play, make every effort to see it (them). Not enough theatres are producing the classics. Here is your chance.
Kudos to the men behind the curtains for their brave undertaking.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 22nd
Organization: Vista Broadway Theatre
Production Type: Drama
Where: 340 East Broadway Suite B, Vista, CA 92084
Ticket Prices: $25.00
Photo: Randall Hickman