Theater Review: 'The Glass Menagerie'

Ben Miles

“The Glass Menagerie” premiered in Chicago in 1944 and won the 1945 New York Drama Critics Circle Award as Best Play – catapulting playwright Tennessee Williams to international attention as a dramatist. Initially titled “The Gentleman Caller,” and penned as a screenplay for MGM, the conceit for “Menagerie” was adapted from one of Williams’s short stories, called “Portrait of a Girl in Glass.” An autobiographically based tale, in it Williams discloses the trying relationship he had with his mother and his physically challenged sister (in actuality Williams’s sister was named Rose and she suffered from mental illness – in the short-story and script she’s called Laura and she walks with a limp).

“The Glass Menagerie” – serviceably directed by John Henry Davis – puts the focus on the dysfunction of one small family constellation, while also serving as a showcase for naturalistic

portrayal of a middle-age mother named Amanda Wingfield (a high-anxiety portrayal rendered by Jennifer Parsons). Amanda lives with her slightly handicapped daughter, Laura (tenderly underplayed by Lizzie Zerebka) and son, Tom (Ty Mayberry convincing as a Williams surrogate). Tom and Laura’s father left the family long ago. As Wingfield familial lore has it, Daddy was a telephone company employee who “fell in love with long distances.”

But it is Tom who is bearing the primary costs of an absent father. After all, the family’s financial well-being depends on Tom’s paycheck from the shoe factory where he labors by day, even though he aspires to be a professional writer (of course). By night, Tom escapes to the “movies,” returning late, and usually drunk, to the St. Louis tenement where he and his dependants dwell.

In an effort to ensure that the mild-mannered Laura has a secure future, Amanda continues to pressure Tom to introduce Laura to a “gentleman caller” from his workplace. Finally, Tom yields to Amanda’s relentless nagging. But when the gentleman does at last come calling, in the form of one Jim O’Connor (smartly characterized by Emilio Garcia-Sanchez), hope rises – but despair is in the air. And, like syrupy tears on rosy cheeks, the sadness lingers in Williams’s melancholy masterpiece.

Davis’s interpretation of this American classic is not particularly innovative but as Tom confides to us during an early moment in the proceedings, “The Glass Menagerie” (named for Laura’s beloved glass animal collection) is a “memory play.” Though the memories are not necessarily good, the poetic recollections compiled by Williams are poignant and profound. Underscored by functional stagecraft – Christopher Scott Murillo, scenic design; Kim DeShazo, costumes; Stacy McKenney Norr, lighting; Corwin Evans, sound – this two-hour and fifteen-minute (including an intermission) production of “The Glass Menagerie” is fittingly translucent and emotionally resonate, making it time well spent in the theater.

“The Glass Menagerie” continues at Long Beach’s International City Theatre through Sept. 9.

Evening performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 2 p.m.

The International City Theatre is located at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way.

For reservations, call (562) 436-4610. For online ticketing and further information, visit Home – International City Theatre.


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