Human Frailty Exposed in Solid Performance of Glass Menagerie at Ivoryton Playhouse

By Amy J. Barry

The pretend world of tiny glass animals in which Laura in The Glass Menagerie lives is so fragile, like her, it cannot withstand the noise and chaos of the real world. Yet the production of this Tennessee Williams classic at The Ivoryton Playhouse is anything but fragile. The theater’s executive director, Jacqueline Hubbard, directs a strong and solid interpretation of this masterful work with a very talented ensemble cast of four.

Resurrecting a play so famous and familiar runs the risk of leaving an audience feeling like they’ve been there, done that, so what’s new? But that’s far from the case in this production. Although The Glass Menagerie been performed innumerable times since Williams wrote it in 1944, somehow it feels fresh—its universal, ageless themes brought to a new light, the tension and lively interaction between the characters maintained throughout.

Julia Kiley, an Ivoryton Playhouse veteran actor and director, is the lynch pin around whom the story unfolds and flows. Kiley infuses her role as Amanda, the single mother—a suffering, suffocating Southern matriarch—with the right measure of strength, vulnerability, and humor as she fiercely tries to both protect and create a normal life for her daughter, Laura, played by Catherine Domareki.

Amanda is what we would refer to today as a “helicopter parent”—constantly hovering and nagging and intruding into her young adult children’s lives. Refusing to accept Laura as crippled and different from other young women, Amanda spends day after day setting a trap and waiting for a gentleman caller to come rescue them both from lives of quiet desperation. But despite her fine acting, at times Kiley comes on so tough and invincible that it’s hard to imagine her character as someone who needs rescuing by anyone!

Domareki mostly achieves the subtle balance between Laura’s undeniable disabilities and manipulation of her situation. Is she exaggerating her limp, her shyness, to stay in her safe, insular world where she plays with glass animals and listens to the Victrola? Domareki maintains that ambiguity until a gentleman caller actually arrives in the second scene and she lets down her guard—a little too quickly and easily—engaging in conversation and appearing almost “normal.”

Peter Lockyer is superb in his roles as Tom, the brother, and as the story’s narrator. A local, who grew up in Chester and Deep River, Lockyer has an impressive background playing Broadway leads including The Phantom of the Opera, Le Miserables, and Miss Saigon.

Lockyer makes us feel Tom’s frustration and despair, his post-adolescent angst in the complicated dance he plays with his mother, who is desperately trying to ward off the inevitable and keep him from becoming his absentee father, even as she does everything possible to push him away.

Lockyer very naturally portrays the push and pull of a young man who his mother and sister and wants to make them happy, yet is simultaneously filled with anger and blame for being saddled with the role of provider, forced to work in a mindless, dead-end job to pay the bills.

The ensemble cast is well rounded-out by Andrew Sneed as Jim, the gentleman caller Tom brings home for dinner. We see the dysfunctional scene through Jim’s eyes—the pathos and polarized roles he encounters when he enters the house. Sneed gives a sensitive and evenhanded portrayal of Jim--the spider caught in Amanda’s web, who understands how special Laura is, while trying not to accidentally crush her like he does the glass unicorn with which she entrusts him.

Set designer Dan Nischan and lighting designer Doug Harry have created a lovely, dreamlike atmosphere that enhances the play’s sense of reality versus imagination and helps to draw us into the precarious lives of a broken family struggling to be whole.

(box) The Glass Menagerie continues through May 25 at The Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton. Call 860-767-7318 for tickets and information or online visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

(This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers Living section, May 22.)

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