“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket; I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” So begins Tennessee Williams’ great memory play and his most autobiographical play The Glass Menagerie, now in production at the Thomaston Opera House in Thomaston. So profoundly moving is this work that once you see it, you never forget it and it always draws you to its isolated center – a family in crisis.
The Backyard Theater Ensemble has been producing plays at the black box Art Center stage at the Thomaston Opera House for several years now. However, for the next few weeks, it has made its way to the main stage with a play that marked its poet-author a playwright of the highest magnitude. It is so simply and poetically crafted that just hearing the lines is like listening to a lover whispering in your ear: “…All that we have to cling to is – each other…”
Abandoned by her husband and left to fend for herself Amanda Wingfield is facing certain poverty unless she can hold on to her son’s salary and marry off her shy and crippled daughter. With World War II in the background, Amanda is trying to keep her small family from spinning out of control. Her daughter’s mental stability is questionable and her adult son is ready to follow in his absent father’s footsteps. Amanda’s life and her family are just as fragile as her daughter’s collection of delicate small glass animals.
One can never see this play too many times. Each time, it is possible to come away with a new understanding, new insight. Williams was a homosexual and in this play the brother and sister relationship is so strongly tied together it’s easy to see Williams delving into the dual nature of male and female. Since Williams hated his father, one can also see the desperate need for a father in this play. The mother lives in the past with her Southern belle adventures. Laura lives suspended neither in reality nor fantasy and her brother Tom lives in dreams of freedom. It is only Jim, the dinner guest, who represents reality and he is only a passing visitor, which is symbolically spot on.
Donato J. D’Albis directs with undeniably fine appreciation for this playwright’s work. His sensitivity to the lyricism of the spoken word resonates with each actor. Chet Ostroski steps into the role of Tom with the ease of stepping into a favorite slipper. His accent is natural and his performance memorable. So too Nicole Thomas as Laura, the shy sister with physical and mental challenges. Thomas is so perfectly cast in this role that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing it. Matt Albert as the guest is also a natural. These actors deliver truly fine performances.
Lucia Dressel plays the pivotal role of Amanda, the mother. She dominates the stage with her every word. Pronounced and provocative she has slid into the skin of this character and renders an unforgettable experience. Her facial expressions speak volumes even when she is silent and when she speaks, the sweetness of her past plays upon her lips.
D’Albis’ impressionistic set with free-standing windows and clotheslines beautifully suggests the apartment building in which this family lives. Dylan Reilly’s lighting design works well, although the dark blue and red shadowy scene changes break up the action too severely. Adam Peakcock’s sound design is minimal and Barbara Piscopo’s costumes are quite attractive.
Here is a play that is so universal that audiences today can still identify with it. The questions asked in this play are questions many people ask today. What will happen to this mother who depends on her son when her son takes off? What will happen to the young girl when her mother dies? What happens to a family that cannot survive intact?
This is not a big musical romp. It is not a spectacular song and dance show. It is as beautiful a play as it is an important play. Do see it. It plays through March 13. Box office: 860-283-6250
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org