The Glass Managerie
by Geary Danihy
A seminal work of art commands attention, for it draws on universals and presents truths that resonate beyond the ephemeral and quotidian.
Such is the case with The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams’ paean to loss of place, faded glory, and familial delusions and betrayals that recently opened at The Ivoryton Playhouse. The play, along with Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, captures a certain time, place and mentality, all of which are in our societal DNA whether we wish to acknowledge it or not. We are the sons, daughters and grandchildren of Amanda Wingfield, Willy Loman and Mary and James Tyrone, and as such, as the curtain rises on any of these plays and the drama unfolds, we pay attention, for we can do no other. It is our story as well as theirs.
Andrew Sneed and Peter Lockyer in "The Glass Menagerie".
Paying attention, in the case of Ivoryton’s take on the Glass Menagerie, yields both positives and negatives, sometimes in the same scene. Take, for example, Amanda, the play’s central figure. As played by Julia Kiley, the Playhouse’s associate artistic director, she is anything but “A little woman of great but confused vitality,” as Williams describes her in the preface to his play. There is nothing “little” about Kiley’s portrayal, no fragility masked by false bravado, no fluttery faded Southern belle. She is Mama Rose, Mame, with just a touch (perhaps too much of a touch, at times) of Scarlett O’Hara. And yet…Kiley’s portrayal is compelling. It may not mesh with your image of Amanda (should you have one), but the angst, anxiety and paranoia are there, just packaged in a more robust form.
However, it’s difficult to believe that the vibrant, comely woman we see on the stage must rely on her two feckless children for survival; that they are her only hope. Rather, there’s the sense that this woman is fully capable of snagging a man (and therefore security) whenever she wants.
Positives and negatives.
Let’s turn to Laura, Amanda’s daughter, afflicted with a limp, which she blows out of proportion as a means of disengaging from life. As portrayed by Catherine Domareki, Laura comes off, at least in the early scenes, as not only shy but…mentally deficient, something that is definitely not in Williams’ script. It’s a matter of delivery of lines, which Domareski does with, initially, a slight lisp and haltingness, coupled with jerky body movements that conjure up a sense of diminished mental capacity. Her take on fragility borders on the pathological, but this disappears in the second act, and her work with the Gentleman Caller (Andrew Sneed) is superb, right down to the moment when, at her brother’s urgings, she blows out the candles.
Yes, her brother, Tom (Peter Lockyer), the character who weaves the “memories” of the play and performs the function of a dysfunctional Greek chorus. Given his musical background (The Phantom of the Opera; 42nd Street; Les Miserables) one would expect a certain mellifluousness in his delivery, something that is simply not there. He delivers his lines, especially in the framing monologues, as if he is reading a “To-do” list. There is no sense of mystery, chances offered and lost, dread, despair, guilt…he says he’s haunted, but his delivery is anything but. The words, as written by Williams, are passionate, refulgent, yet Lockyer serves them up sans brio. And yet Lockyer’s work with Kiley – son and mother in conflict -- especially in the second act, is both compelling and chilling.
Finally, there is the Gentleman Caller. Sneed is dead-on as a young man on the make who has bought into the Horatio Alger dream. He is going to make good by taking courses, spouting banalities and always offering a hearty handshake. Sneed gives his character just the right touch of naïve enthusiasm and earnest belief in patent-medicine psychology…he is who his character is supposed to be.
Positives and negatives.
Daniel Nischan’s set nicely evokes the era and the Wingfield’s diminished lifestyle, but then there are these semi-transparent curtains that hang mid-stage and are pulled back by the actors to reveal…a dining room. “Pulling back the curtains” is, obviously, a metaphor for going back in time, revelation, clearing away the mists of memory. If so, then why do the curtains not mask the entire stage rather than just the dining room? There is nothing dramatically inherent in that room.
Positives and negatives.
Doug Harry has created a very evocative lighting design – especially in a scene in which Amanda, bathed in golden light, speaks to Laura, swathed in a cold blue light, of what her life was like as a young woman…and yet…several of Tom’s monologues have him in dark shadow, and the presence of the father who “fell in love with long distance,” which should be evoked by (so the script calls for) illumination of a portrait on the wall, is only faintly invoked. “Dad” has to shine, preen, gloat…instead, he’s a vague ghost.
There’s nothing negative, however, about Jacqueline Hubbard’s direction. It’s crisp and on the mark. She has seen fit to draw out the humor that lurks in the play and given the production many delightful touches, including a lovely balcony scene in which Amanda urges Laura to wish on the moon as Tom hovers over them, clinging to lattice-work, a protective spirit who will eventually opt out.
All in all, The Glass Menagerie is well-served by this production. The positives outweigh the negatives and regardless of how many times you’ve seen this play, you will come away from the Ivoryton production well satisfied.
The Glass Menagerie runs through Sunday, May 25. For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org. To learn what other critics think about this production, or to see what’s playing at theaters throughout Connecticut, go to www.ctcritics.org.
(This review originally appeared in The Norwalk Citizen-News.)