The Glass Menagerie
Light and dark are in battle with each other in the haunting, shadowy production of The Glass Menagerie currently in performances at the Laura Pels Theater. The famously autobiographical memory play by Tennessee Williams, detailing a struggling family in the South, is given new life and new meaning in a grim, gritty and magnificent production.
The center of The Glass Menagerie is Amanda Whittingfield, the grande dame of her small household and all that enter it. Played in a deceptively steely performance by Judith Ivey, this Amanda is a fiercely loving mother of Tom and Laura – so much so that when her attempts to improve her children’s lives backfire miserably the result is alienation instead of affection.
From the opening scene, it is clear this production is not an idealized version of Southern hospitality and grandeur. As Tom sits down in front of his typewriter, bottle of whiskey close by, and attempts to write his family’s history, one can sense a weary resignation and acceptance of the scenes that will unfold. However painful they are, Tom cannot keep them at bay and neither can we.
The family lives in a dingy apartment whose one luxury is its view of the moon from the fire escape (referred to by Amanda as the terrace). Despite the cramped quarters, Tom and Laura, struggle to keep secrets from their mother, who, as she frequently reminds them, is simply trying to help them improve their lives. Tom is bored and embittered by his job at a shoe factory and attempts to write in his spare time, snatching the typed pages away from Amanda when she tries to read them. After enrolling in business school, Laura drops out but keeps her withdrawal a secret from her mother to spare her inevitable fury and disappointment. Laura’s only hope, Amanda concludes, is marriage. The problem is no gentlemen have come calling for Laurie, ever.
Played by Keira Keeley in a beautifully understated performance, Laura’s physical and emotional handicaps are apparent from her first moment onstage. She limps badly and is painfully shy. Her tremulous confrontation with her mother is truly terrifying to witness and only a hint of what the audience can expect later in the play, when she converses with a long-ago crush from high school. Keely inspires genuine sympathy for Laura, and it is clear why Tom is so devoted to her well-being. Tom, played by Patch Darragh, is a fuming, restless young man. The sexual undertones of his character and his nightly trips “to the movies” as well as his perusal of a D. H. Laurence novel are not lost upon this man; it is clear there is much more to Tom than what is happening in his apartment.
This is not lost upon Amanda, whose desperate attempts to learn more about her son are both comic and pathetic. One can’t help but like this woman a little, even while feeling immense gratitude that she is not one’s own mother. Everything from her high-pitched command to, “Rise and shine!” at seven in the morning to her coquettish conversation with Tom’s friend are entertaining and her more serious moments are truly captivating. This woman is unapologetically ambitious, but, as she repeatedly states, everything she does is for her children.
Tom and Amanda’s devotion to Laura differ greatly, demonstrated when Amanda insists that Tom bring a friend from his job home for dinner in order to introduce Laura to a potential suitor. Tom’s reluctant acquiescence introduces the family to Jim O’Connor (a pitch-perfect Michael Mosley) who seems to be everything the family could wish for. That illusion, however, is quickly shattered, but not before a romantic interlude between Jim and Laura, set to shadowy, beautiful candlelight. When Jim’s shortcomings are illuminated upon, dreams are shattered and hopes are crushed and the family is left in the dark yet again.