The Glass Menagerie Review – A New and Unique Experience
The Glass Menagerie, written by Tennessee Williams, is one of his most famous plays. I have read the play and seen the film adaptation starring Katherine Hepburn, but never saw it on stage. I finally got that opportunity Sunday, August 11 at the Theater Wit on 1229 West Belmont Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. This production is a new, creative and imaginative version of the classic play. Due to popular demand by impressed audiences, the show’s original May-July run has been extended twice now running through August 25th, 2013.
The four-character drama is about a man, Tom Wingfield, who is possessed by regrets and demons from his past. He obsesses over sad and angry memories. Tom is also the narrator of the play and was wonderfully played by Hans Fleishman, who also directed the production. Fleishman’s cast also includes Mary Mivka as Amanda, Tom’s mother, Joanne Dubach as Tom’s shy and crippled sister, Laura, and Walter Briggs as Jim, Laura’s old high school crush. All ensemble members are fresh from the Jeff-nominated production at the Mary-Archer Theatre Company also located in Chicago.
At the show’s beginning, we are introduced to the narrator, Tom Wingfield, whose character is that of a homeless street bum, always roaming lonely alleys. This Tom is in the story’s present. He guides us through his sad and haunting past, living in squalor with his delusional mother, Amanda, and his shy, crippled sister, Laura. Tom’s father abandoned them long ago because he “fell in love with long distance”, with the telephone company he worked for. Tom escapes his broken family life by “going to the movies” every night.
I greatly admired how the Theater Wit was able to turn a tiny stage into a beautiful and haunting set complete with subtle lighting and collections of glass animals and old ornaments. The basic set never changed between acts, but managed to convey a change from a street alley to decrepit housing all in one. Everything looked very realistic and I was reminded of similar streets and alleys where I had been in myself. When the lighting dimmed, the stage became dark except for the beautiful glass objects, illuminated by gorgeous lighting. It created an atmosphere that made me hold my breath in awe.
Referring to the discussion of the characters, I felt that Hans Fleishman’s portrayal and performance as Tom Wingfield was very strong and was the heart and soul of the play. Yes, it is true that each character contributes something very important, but one also needs to understand that each of their flaws, wants, hopes, despair and demons all connect back to the center of Tom’s mind and inner core and soul. The story is composed of all his own memories and past life, which the other characters are all part of.
Fleishman played Tomwith a realistic and emotional delicacy that truly displays a man in pain with sad memories and struggling to overcome questions and regret in his life. As mentioned earlier, not only did he narrate the play, he also was a character in it as well. He smoothly went back and forth from storyteller to character.
I also admired Mary Mivka’s performance as Tom’s mother, Amanda. Amanda and her children are abandoned by her husband who left the family in poverty and squalor. Amanda continues to dream of her old life as a Southern belle growing up in a well-to-do family. She wishes the same life for her children and pushes them to have the “life” she used to have. She is a bitter, delusional woman who becomes hateful and alienates her own children.
Ms. Mivka played Amanda with a convincing demeanor of a broken woman who only wants a better life for her family and will go to extremes to achieve it. However, I wanted to mention one thing. My friend who came with me to the show is from the South herself and observed that Ms. Mivka’s Southern accent sounded fake at times. I felt myself that she tried too hard at times. However, we both agreed that she sounded the most realistic and convincing when she was upset, yelling, or showing extreme emotion, in the most intense scenes in the show.
As for Laura, Tom’s sister, the actress, Joanne Dubach, played her with a delicate and sad, innocent portrayal of a child worth of pity. Laura is shy, friendless and crippled from a past illness. She isolates herself at home, content in her own “world” of a glass collection of animals and ornaments. This world is where she feels safe and happy; it is her own “glass menagerie.”
Amanda desperately attempts to fix Laura up with a man so she can marry and get away from home. Tom tries to help out by bringing his co-worker, Jim O’Connor home for dinner. It turns out that Jim is the popular jock from Laura’s high school that she had a crush on. Jim remembers her and they reconnect. They each discover the other’s insecurities and weaknesses.
Jim’s character for me was very interesting. He is not introduced until the second act and brought freshness to the story. I enjoyed Walter Briggs as Jim. It was a brief yet effective role. He comes in as a man who seems perfect-a person for Tom and his family to admire. He has accomplished much in life but did so with hard work and optimism, which Laura has none of. He encourages Laura to make something of herself, and that being different makes her special. She should never think that she is inferior to anyone and should build more self-esteem. Jim turns out to be engaged, but I truly believe at the end of the play that Laura keeps the advice he gave her. Afterwards, Tom leaves the family for good, because ultimately he can’t stand being there any longer.
The ensemble was strong with convincing portrayals of broken, sad and yet hopeful characters. I thought the show was nearly perfect except for certain scenes when the actors another would speak to one another but looked out at the audience. Both my friend and I noticed it. It felt odd to me because it was as if there was no intimate or personal connection between the characters on stage. They would look out at the audience instead. This did nothing for me as an audience member or observer of their story when this happened.
Overall, The Glass Menagerie was quite a play to experience on stage and I felt as if I had learned several lessons about everyday life lessons about love, life and family.
The Glass Menagerie runs through August 25th at the Theater Wit on 1229 west Belmont in Chicago, Illinois. Show times include Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm.
Orignial score by Daniel Knox, Grant Sabin (scenic design), Stefin Sterberl (costume design), Matthew Gawryk (lighting design), Joe Court (sound design), Anna Henson (projection design), Arianna Soloway (props design), Rudy Galvan (assistant director/dramaturg), Andrew Donnelly (stage manager) and Carlo Garcia (producing director)
*Photos by Emily Schwartz