The narrator clues us in at the outset that what we’ll be watching are the shadows of memories. This “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion” are Tom’s sheltered remembrances of the last days spent with his fragile sister Laura and desperately grasping mother Amanda before abandoning them to their wretched fate.
It’s no wonder then that this tragic telling of regret and the lasting scars that accompany it must be presented straightforwardly, with a little bit of poetry and an abundance of humor.
The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical “look back” at discontented escapists shines with emotional power in director Mark Ramont’s sensitive and lovely production at Ford’s Theatre.
Securely placed within the American theater canon and sharing a thematic lineage with Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, this imperceptibly captivating and moving domestic drama is the little engine that catapulted Williams to prominence, foreshadowed his later, more-passionate work and bestowed upon audiences one of the greatly prodigious female roles in 20th century drama.
Yes, the suffering matriarch Amanda Wingfield evinces the tell-tale signs of the long line of Williams women to follow: theatrical and wounded, clinging to an illusory web of self-deception and baring her teeth at those closest to her. But Amanda’s not a monster or a camp figure. In fact, she’s very recognizable as a lot of mothers out there who smother their offspring with a dominating love. Recognizing that a bad choice felled her dreams for happiness, she feels behind the eight ball in the game of life and gladly doles out the hard hand of discipline to right the family’s course through her children and to ensure survival.
With those stakes, Amanda is a plum role and Madeleine Potter embodies the character with an appealing complexity. Her Amanda is a compassionate portrait, balancing what makes the character funny—fluttering on about the many gentleman callers from her own glorious past or nagging her children to sit up, masticate well and show more get-up—with the genuine care she feels for them and the anxious urgency to meet the future prepared.
At times she takes on airs perilously close to that other faded Southern belle Blanche Dubois, but Potter reminds us that Amanda’s domineering self-pity and exaltedness are not meant to be abusive but bandages for her fear.
Local favorite Tom Story plays the restless narrator Tom, a thin alter ego for the playwright himself. Story’s portrayal is mostly relaxed and laconic, but he’s at his best when trading laced barbs with his mother. He comes alive when shouting about his nocturnal exploits at “opium dens and gambling casinos” in responses to Amanda’s nagging, but for the most part he plays it cool. If there’s any buried conflict or emotion at all when looking back at the family he abandoned he doesn’t show it. I doubt this was inadvertently neglected and think it must be Tom’s way of dealing with a tragedy he authored.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE
January 22 – February 21, 2016
511 Tenth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20004
2 hours, 15 minutes with 1 intermission
Check for Discounts
Jenna Sokolowski lovingly inhabits the timid, delicate Laura in a graceful, nuanced performance. She’s able to emerge from the background in the second act during a quiet candlelit scene with Jim O’Connor (Thomas Keegan), the symbolic Gentleman Caller recruited to salvage her. Keegan is fine as Jim, and plays him with a healthy self-assurance, which serves as glaring contrast to the Wingfields.
Ramont has unmistakably attempted to express the central concept of memory through the play’s scenic design, most notably by projecting a series of filmed images depicting Laura frozen in time, smiling, happily ever after—moments that might be reality recalled, or may be the reality that Tom wishes for her, to ease his guilty conscience.
Timothy R. Mackabee’s set and Dan Covey’s lighting focus the action center stage on the Wingfield’s small living room underneath a matrix of fire escapes and flanked on both sides by precariously assembled piles of desks and chairs, seeming to hint that what we’re witnessing is a a palliative expression from Tom’s aching mind.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Mark Ramont. Featuring Tom Story, Madeleine Potter, Jenna Sokolowski and Thomas Keegan. Scenic Design: Timothy R. Mackabee. Lighting Design: Dan Covey. Sound Design and Original Music: John Gromada. Costume Design: Frank Labovitz. Hair and Make-up Design: Anne Nesmith. Projection Design: Clint Allen. Dialects: Leigh Wilson Smiley. Stage Manager: Brandon Prendergast. Produced by Ford’s Theatre. Reviewed by Roy Maurer.