Review: The Glass Menagerie – stealing tears I so jealously protect

It can take a lot to make me cry.  Where my partner will shed a few when they “move that bus” I tend to find myself a little more protective of my own.  But last night, thanks to some terrific performances, the tears came not once but twice as I watched the Glass Productions’ presentation of The Glass Menagerie.

glass-menagerieTennessee Williams’ oft produced “memory play”, while certainly of a different time, still manages to captivate.  To some degree it is in knowing that what we are seeing is autobiographical in nature, but more so it is the beauty of Williams’ words which draws us into the timeless and fragile lives of his characters and allows the play to resonate.

Nancy Ebert as Amanda was the first to extract tears.  A delicately balanced performance, Ebert successfully walked the fine line between the strong matriarch and the faded Southern Belle who spends much of her own time reminiscing about her own golden days while wishing the same for her children.  At the end of act one, as mother and daughter stare at the moon on the apartment fire escape, Amanda urges her daughter to make a wish.  Turning to her mother, Laura looks for guidance.  “You should wish to lead a happy, productive life, my dear,” comes the simple response as she clutches her daughter close.  In those few words, we feel Amanda’s aching desire for her child’s happiness, mixed with a heartbreaking melancholy for how her own life has played out.

Eliciting tears for the second time was in the performances by Tom Stevens as Jim and Beth Garner as Laura in act two.  Invited to dinner and seen as the one great hope for romance for Laura, Jim draws her out, and provides for some of the most believable and beautiful moments of the evening.  As the evening draws to its inevitable conclusion, my heart ached for Laura and where we could easily have felt some resentment, Stevens has so successfully made him genuine that we quickly forgive.

Rounding out the cast here is Stephen Benjamin Fowler as Tom, the son and narrator.  Fowler provides a nice counterpoint here with a genuine frustration and anger in both his relationship with mother and sister and with his own life; by the time Tom makes his decision to leave we understand why it is necessary.

Director Chris Lam has obviously worked hard with his actors to bring out both the dysfunction and resilience within each, but I admit to yearning for some more thoughtful pauses as the text seemed rushed at times.  This would have been a particularly nice counterpoint to Amanda’s rambling dialogue in act two.

With original music by Jay Schreiber and a palette of subdued lighting throughout most of the play, Director Lam captures Tom’s opening narration quite literally.  And while definitely a pleasantly surprising addition, at times the music did overpower.

Last night, I once again felt for the Wingfields: wanting Laura to find romance, in understanding Tom’s pain, and in wanting Amanda to see her children attain more.  That is why this production stole some of the tears I so jealously protect.

4 Out of 5 StarsThe Glass Menagerie
Douglas College Studio Theatre, 700 Royal AvenueNew Westminster
25 – 28 August 2010 @ 7:30pm

Tickets $6/$3 at the door or by calling 604 765 7554.

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