The Glass Menagerie

The Tennessee Williams Centennial Festival has closed, but 1st Stage’s sensitive and skilled rendition of The Glass Menagerie allows us to revel in the talent of the great Tennessee Williams once again.

Lucas Beck as Tom and Elizabeth Pierotti as Amanda (Photo courtesy of 1st Stage)

The Glass Menagerie was William’s first great play and is generally considered to be his most autobiographical work.  It is a memory play narrated by Tom Wingfield (Lucas Beck) set in a cheap St. Louis apartment  in the pre-World War II era.  Tom dreams of becoming a writer but works at a shoe warehouse to support his mother Amanda (Elizabeth Pierotti) and sister Laura (Leigh Taylor Patton) after his father abandoned the family.

Tom chafes under a job that is beneath his intellect and the smothering attentions of his mother, a former Southern belle who now worries about the survival of the family and the future of her children.  When Amanda is not nagging Tom over his escape to cheap movie houses in the evenings, she is pressuring him to help find a “gentleman caller” for Laura.  Laura is a shy young woman with a crippled leg who spends much of her time playing with a set of glass figurines).  Tom loves his sister, but he is tormented by guilt and regret over his desire to flee the family.

It is a tribute to Lucas Beck’s excellent performance that Tom’s character has even more consequence than usual.  From his opening narration, Beck effectively channels Tennessee Williams as a young man who is already an old and tormented soul.  The banality of daily life and the pressures of family weigh heavily on him and his inevitable personal crisis is a credible outcome.

Beck’s performances is equaled by that of Elizabeth Pierotti as Amanda.  Her Amanda achieves a welcome balance between a larger than life Southern lady taking solace in the memories of the glory days of her youth and a concerned mother, desperate to help Laura avoid the awful fate of becoming an old maid.  She is utterly believable as an authentic and resilient Southern woman.  (As a third generation Tennessean, I feel qualified to make that assessment.)

Leigh Taylor Patton as Laura Wingfield (Photo courtesy of 1st Stage)

Amanda’s delight when Tom finally brings home a gentleman caller (David Winkler) for Laura sets the stage for the play’s pivotal turn.  Winkler is convincing as a talkative and ambitious young man who could have appealed to a shy Laura when they were both in high school a few years back.  While Leigh Taylor Patton’s Laura at times seems more slow than shy, she blossoms nicely in her candle-lit scene with Winkler.

Under the direction of Dawn Andrews this production does not take chances or play with any novel interpretations (such as did a recent New York production that created a framing device of an adult character typing out the play in a hotel room).  Instead she allows the drama to play out in a gentle manner with a slowly building emotional impact.  It is a classic and elegant approach to one of the twentieth century’s most poetic plays and the lyrical result justifies her faith in the material.

The 1st Stage production is nicely complemented by Jim Alexander’s realistic period set and subtle lighting design which includes that extremely effective natural candle-lit scene.  When the last candle is blown out, the haunting beauty of The Glass Menagerie lingers in the theatre.

The Glass Menagerie runs thru April 17, 2011 at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Road, McLean (Tyson’s Corner), VA.
Details here.
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The Glass Menagerie

Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Dawn McAndrews
Produced by 1st Stage
Reviewed by Steven McKnight

Recommended
Running time: 2 hr 15 min  with one intermission

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