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6/16/2024        THE GLASS MENAGERIE        AuthentiCity Theatre


(Sloth Alert:  Much of this is plagiarized from a “template” I used for Georgia Shakespeare’s 2011 production of this play.  And Stage Door Players’ 2020 production.)


Memory has a way of smothering us in its comfort-blanket embrace of rose-colored assurances even as it deceives us with its lost details, its manufactured incidents, and its pleasing fallacies.  They say there is no consciousness without memory, no memory of early years before consciousness.  What does it say about us when the core of who we are may be (and usually is) a blatant lie?


The Glass Menagerie is arguably Tennessee Williams’ best-crafted “Memory Play.”  In it, he attempts an exorcism of his own memories of his mother, his sister, and his youth in St. Louis.  Tom Wingfield is telling us his memory of his final days living in that tenement that may or may not resemble Williams’ own.  His memory is filtered, biased, and selective as he tells us of his overly eccentric mother Amanda and his crippled and shy sister Laura, of the “Gentleman Caller” who was supposed to pull Laura out of her fragile solitude, tells us of the circumstances that shattered forever the memory of hearth and home and family.


Like all memories, Tom’s ebbs and flows with detail, sometimes fuzzy and unfocused, other times sharp and clear.  It is through Williams’ genius that these ebbs and flows transfer into a workable dramatic framework, that what we see is inalterably “infected” with Tom’s feelings – his mother a bit too jagged, his sister a bit too fragile.  And we accept the conventions, because, at their root, are the very real emotions Tom will always carry.  His story conveys all too realistically the emotional upheavals and consequences of the choices he made and regrets.

The beauty of basing a play on memory is that it allows productions carte blanche to blur details, to ignore period-specific cues and visuals, to basically allow (even encourage) lapses in period-specificity.  That accent is “wrong?”  That prop is “wrong?”  That song is “wrong?”  No. It’s just a contemporary echo Tom’s faulty memory layered over the narrative, the production.


It is (perhaps not) ironic that in AuthentiCity’s current production in 7 Stages’ backstage black box, the music from a Burlesque show occupying the main stage bleeds over.  And yet, it somehow seems “right” – echoes of parties filtered through Tom’s imagination, coloring his memory of paper-thin tenement walls and party-heavy back alleys.  Even when a throbbing bass and drum beat  threaten to overpower the scripted (and sound-designed) Big Band jazz, it seems right.  With memory, serendipity quickly becomes design!


Our contact with the Wingfield family in this exquisite and sublime production is their home, more spare and broken than in prior productions, pieces left out, colors blended into a sepia-sameness. Sophie Im’s set, dominated by the grinning portrait of an absent father who “fell in love with long distance,” (an image of a charming hustler who apparently preferred to hustle himself out of a family)  is furniture-specific but detail-sparse, food missing and forgotten, props screaming significance by their very presence.  A staircase stage left climbs to the ever-present ledge that is part of the space’s structure, allowing Tom a fire escape for his monologues, even as it creates a logistical barrier to evoking a realistic entrance.  With memory, impossible logistics quickly become design! 


Gone here are the leaf-gobo lighting effects that so informed Stage Door’s 2020 production, evocative of Tom’s final “about me like dead leaves, leaves that were brightly colored but torn away from the branches.”  Just a lost lyrical grace note missing from this Tom’s memory and story.  Gone also are the sharp-edged glass shard images that dominated Georgia Shakespeare’s 2011 production.  Again, this time the sharp-edged imagery is dulled by time, distance, and emotional exhaustion.  With memory, abandoned choices quickly become design!


Jared Seidler (Tom, this time) makes his initial entrance long before the play starts, watching us enter and do our final iPhone tasks and games as we wait for him to start, perhaps sizing us up to judge whether or not we merit his story, his memory, the pain of his sister, the outrageousness of his mother.  Thankfully, he chooses to share his memory with us, and we are all stronger for that sharing.


Gisele Frame is, as expected, a dynamic force of nature as Amanda, dominating us even as she dominates her children.  Yes, the expected deep south is only hinted in her dialect, perhaps suppressed by Tom to make the memory less hurtful, more palatable.  Again, the fungible nature of memory makes this not only acceptable, but a perfect choice that reflects the nature of Tom’s memory more than Ms. Frame’s performance.


Laura Byrom is extraordinary as Laura, almost catatonic in her shyness, perhaps even on the autistic spectrum from a time before Tom could even know what that meant.  Her shyness is painful to watch as the Gentleman Caller comes to call, her response to his kiss an ecstatic revelation, highlighted by Technical Director Scott Keefer’s choice to bathe it in a romantic pink light, a light that fades to grey as the caller “backtracks,” rescinds his kiss, confesses his unavailability. 


In fact, the Gentleman Caller scene is the highlight of the production, a roller-coaster of awkwardness and joy and sadness, elevated by the pitch-perfect performances of Ms. Byrom and of Isaac Gober as Jim O’Connor.  The entire scene is a beautiful dance, a pas-de-deux of connection and withdrawal, memory and nostalgia, kindness and regret.  When this Laura learns the identity of the Gentleman Caller, she sobs as she realizes no merciful shadow will shroud her, sparing her from what she knows must come.  This is a Laura that seems close in spirit to her source, Williams’ institutionalized sister, yet profoundly different from prior Lauras I may have described with these same words;  this is a young woman who desperately needs real help, not the arm-chair get-over-it platitudes that Jim offers her.  And yet, as her encounter with Jim grows deeper, more familiar, she reveals a strength we always suspected was there all along, the strength that drains rapidly as the truths of the evening are revealed but barely accepted.  Hers is a Laura that will be forever lost, forever abandoned, and it is heart-rending to get a glimpse of what “might have been.”


Mr. Gober gives us a Jim who is pleasant and approachable, who doesn’t wear his self-created confidence like an arrogant club, who sees Laura for what she is, likes her for it, and regrets being put into a situation where he will make her retreat further into a brittle glass shell.  This is a brilliantly performed, brilliantly directed Jim/Laura sequence that is alternately sweet, hopeful, and gut-wrenchingly traumatic. 


Director Kelley Jordan has orchestrated a lyrically profound, poetical beautiful interpretation that treats these characters freshly, as if we hadn’t already seen them in a dozen prior productions, as if this time, this may just turn out differently, better in fact, even as the devastating realization arrives that this production too will end with sadness, with Laura blowing our her candles and disappearing into an unknown fate, a fate that Tom himself has (perhaps cruelty) consigned to the void of events never experienced, never remembered.  This final scene, Mr. Seidler’s final monologue (necessarily totally imagined by Tom) completes this play, ties it up into an emotional bolt and shoots it straight into our guts.


This production, this director, these actors, these designers do full justice to Williams’ delicate play.  I loved how the production underscored and emphasized the complex clarity of the emotional core, adding specificity to the familiar story.  I loved how the cast inhabited these characters and made them real.  Even if they are only constructs of Tom’s memory, of Williams’ memory, they nevertheless live and breathe and tell us their own tale, their own role in the memory of the storyteller(s).


The Glass Menagerie has always been a delicate figurine of a play, easily shattered by over-the-top acting or heavy-handed direction.  In the hands of AuthentiCity Theatre, it is an outstanding exercise in theater, a candle-lit reverie that flickers its graceful emotional complexity and inhabits our own memory with a fragile but certain grip.


When Tom implores Laura to blow out her candle, to darken her memory forever, it is a sublime moment, a moment that reassures us that no matter how many tricks memory has up its sleeve, no matter how often it lies and deceives, it is always as true as it needs to be. 


It would be satisfying to wish Mr. Williams a gentle “Blow out your candle, Tennessee.”  Since he has long ago passed into our own memories, all we know of him is what he has shared.  And I will be forever glad that he chose to share this particular moment, this particular shard of shattered memory, as I am glad that the over-the-top talents of the AuthentiCity team have brought it to compellingly memorable life.


     --  Brad Rudy  (  # AuthentiCity   #GlassMenagerie)

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