Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: APRIL 24, 2009
It’s always pleasant to revisit old friends – even if they are a recluse, a deserter and a gorgon. No matter how familiar ” The Glass Menagerie” may seem, it still manages to creep up on you, seep into your bones and break your heart.
One of the great American classics, this was the first big success for Tennessee Williams. W ritten in 1944, it’s the playwright’s most autobiographical creation, a not always fond remembrance of his youth in St. Louis , a furtive poet trapped in his job, under the thumb of his overbearing mother, guilt-ridden about his mentally challenged sister.
The play is a lyrical dreamscape, set in a cramped St. Louis apartment, but floating in a smoky cloud of memory. The narrator, Tom , drifts in and out of the action, recalling one fateful season in his family’s life, a time and place from which he escaped physically but which has haunted him ever since. Each sharply drawn character is obsessed with a dream deferred.
Amanda, that most smothering of mothers, finds her only contentment reliving the past, recalling her days as a Southern belle with 17 gentleman callers, any one of whom she could have married. But she was smitten by the telephone man with the seductive smile; he abandoned her and the kids years ago. Now Tom is saddled with the support of his family, suffocated by his mother, working a dead-end job in a factory, when all he wants is freedom, adventure and the chance to be a writer.
The tragically fragile Laura, frightened of everything and everyone, self-conscious about her limp and lost in her own little world of tiny glass animals, once had a crush on a high school classmate who called her Blue Roses. She’s flustered and feverish when Jim actually shows up in their living room, brought home from the factory by Tom , at his mother’s pounding insistence. He’s the long-awaited Gentleman Caller who will spell release for all. A superstar in his youth, Jim hasn’t exactly soared since then. But he’s the Wingfields ’ last hope, and after he leaves, the family falls apart.
Under the sensitive direction of Robert Smyth , Lamb’s Players Theatre has mounted a lovely production, with a lacy, ethereal design and moody, chimerical lighting. Complementing the musicality of the language, Rik Ogden underscores the action with his mournful sax or clarinet. The characters are finely etched, with Deborah Gilmour Smyth ’s splendid Amanda at the center, disappointed and desperate, relentless and falsely optimistic, and oh so delusional about her dysfunctional offspring. The interactions are excellent, culminating in the hopeful/painful scene between Laura and Jim. There could be more ache and longing at the end, but in this masterwork, the Wingfield family never fails to deliver.
“The Glass Menagerie” runs through May 24 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado .
©2009 PAT LAUNER