Ambler’s Act II Playhouse continues their 16th season with a production of Tennessee Williams’ classic American drama, THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Directed by multi-Barrymore Award winner James J. Christy, this beautifully poetic memory play runs at the company’s Butler Avenue theatre from October 28th to November 23rd, 2014.
The most autobiographical of all of Williams’ works, THE GLASS MENAGERIE is about the Wingfield family eking out an existence in a shabby St. Louis apartment during the Great Depression. Son Tom tells the story of his faded Southern belle mother, Amanda, and his shy, crippled sister, Laura. Tom loves his family (especially Laura), but desperately wants to escape the dictates of his mother, as well as the dullness of his dead-end factory job. He longs for adventure and wants to be a writer; as he tells the story, he has followed his father’s example and has long since abandoned the two women to whatever fate may bring. Clearly riddled with guilt, one wonders when he says that final line of the play, “Goodbye,” is he suicidal.
Charlie delMarcelle brings great sensitivity and humor to the role of Tom. One could easily hate him for having left his mother and sister so heartlessly, but delMarcelle does a wonderful job of conveying the restlessness and longing of a bright young man who was never cut out for the life of a “regular” guy. When he gives Tom’s opening monologue about the state of the world at the time of the play, it seems clear that he is seeing parallels to today’s political climate and drawing on his own feelings about it. The interplay between delMarcelle and Carla Belver as Amanda is so grounded in reality, not a false note anywhere. There is great love and teasing between a mother and a son, but one realizes that Tom is being pulled away by his own dreams—impractical ones to us, but everything to him.
Belver, the 2014 winner of the Barrymore Lifetime Achievement Award, is terrific as Amanda. In lesser hands, this character could become a complete shrew. Christy and Belver have deftly crafted a woman who is hanging on by a thread as she tries to keep her family together. Yes, she has moments of being what we’d now call a “helicopter mom”, but Belver infuses such love into the role that you understand this woman’s struggle. It is clear that pride has kept her going all these years; she would never have crawled back to her family after her husband left, because she would have spent the rest of her life listening to their “I told you so’s”.
Amanda Schoonover takes on the difficult role of Laura Wingfield, a deeply introverted young adult. Laura is crippled due to childhood illness; in her mind, her limp is magnified a hundred times. She is also deeply scarred by the perceived rejections of her high school peers. So much so, that she is unable to function in any situation beyond the confines of her family and home. Her days are spent playing her father’s old Victrola records and looking at her collection of glass animals. Schoonover portrays this frightened young woman perfectly, tugging at the audience’s heartstrings throughout.
Though he doesn’t appear until Act II, Sean Bradley makes a lasting impression as Jim O’Connor—the “Gentleman Caller” Amanda coerces Tom into bring home for dinner. Bradley is wonderful as the former big-man-on-campus at “Soldan High School,” where he and Laura were in chorus class together. From the moment he hits the stage, he conveys Jim’s energy and determination to make something of himself. Yet, as much as he’s a “man’s man,” he gently and genuinely encourages Laura to not be so self-conscious. The scene between him and Schoonover’s Laura is so deftly played…
“The long-delayed but always expected something that we live for.”
Christy’s direction of THE GLASS MENAGERIE is assured and insightful full of fresh new insights into Williams’ beautiful language. The original script calls for a screen to project the titles of the various scenes above the set. Christy has wisely chosen to use Tom’s narrator status to step outside the action briefly and inform us, in a wonderfully wry manner, what is coming. Act II’s intimate space is perfect for this story; we are “flies on the wall” as it were witnessing the events in the Wingfield apartment. Daniel Boylen has designed a simple, yet elegant set that is a terrific combination of reality and dream world, with semi transparent panels around the suggestion of a living/dining room and a fire escape landing. Christy moves his actors around the multi-leveled space nicely, making full use of Boylen’s lovely creation. James Leightner’s lighting design supports the story beautifully, placing focus where needed. He has also added some lovely bits of light patterns on the panels that suggest the reflections from Laura’s glass figurines. Wonderfully accurate Depression era ensembles have been designed by Frankie Fehr, complimenting each character perfectly. John Stovicek’s soundscape underscores the action quite well, eliciting just the right mood for each moment.
A troubled individual, the playwright used his writing to excise some of his demons. His actual given name was Thomas, and it is commonly believed that Tom Wingfield serves as his alter ego—though Williams didn’t abandon his family. While Laura is a loving tribute to his mentally ill sister Rose, one can also see aspects of her “hiding” could represent Williams as well—a gay man living in a very homophobic society.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE has always been a personal favorite of mine and Act II’s production is a terrific piece of theatre. Full of warmth, humor and drama, it honors Williams’ story wholeheartedly. I highly recommend making the quick trip to Ambler to see this wonderful ensemble bring new life to an American classic.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE
by Tennessee Williams
Directed by James J. Christy
October 28—November 23, 2014
Act II Playhouse
56 E. Butler Avenue
Ambler, PA 19002