‘The Glass Menagerie’ is primarily an autobiographical story, or as the American playwright Thomas Tennessee Williams called it ‘a memory play’. In this beautifully written tale, he looks back at various situations in his tough life, re-examining the circumstances as an adult.
This two-hour delightful yet evocative classic is being presented by GRADS – The Graduate Dramatic Society – under the supervision of production manager, Seanne Sparrow. Although the play is three-quarters of a century old, it is still as pertinent today and is certainly not dated. It can be seen nightly at 7.30 in the Dolphin Theatre at the University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley until Saturday 19th October. There is a Saturday matinée of this must-see play at 2.00 pm.
The scene: is a poor area of St. Louis in 1937 as recalled by the 1960s narrator.
The set: Jane Hille’s set was minimal. With a matte black stage, no wings or rear backdrop. It consisted of dozens of 60 cms wide, white net curtain lace criss-crossed from floor to ceiling, giving the appearance of intermingled muscle and nerve fibres blended with a set from an Alfred Hitchcock’s dream sequence. With Jane’s clever use of floods, selective spots of white light and with the occasional use of colour for the mood, the end product was most effective. The set was laboriously constructed with hours of ladder work by Dean McAskil and Eddie Stowers.
Stage manager Neale Paterson had no props to worry about, but had auditorium exits and entrances to supervise.
Myles Wright’s outstanding musical composition and orchestration was haunting and poignant. The music and crisp sound effects were operated by Carmen Vasiu on cue.
The central character and narrator, middle-aged Tom Wingfield (Andrew Matthews) dressed in a shabby beanie, bellbottomed jeans and dark blue work jacket strides to the front of the stage and explains that this is not a play, more of a collection of memories by those in his family. He watches and even mingles with the cast, as he looks back at his past.
An aspiring poet, young Tom (James Ford) toils in a shoe warehouse striving to support his haughty, vivacious and bitterly manipulating mother, Amanda (Danielle Antaki). Tom’s mother was raised in the Deep South with a silver spoon in her mouth, but her wealthy parents hit hard times.
Exasperated by his boring job and his intimidating mother, Tom becomes a loner, who escapes to the cinema and further relief by quaffing more than the odd drink. Mr Wingfield, Tom’s fine-looking father, left his job at the telephone company and disappeared. Except for a single postcard to his forsaken family, the father not been heard from since. Amanda is effectively a widow with fond memories of the past, who is truly hurting inside hence her hard, domineering and supercilious attitude to the present.
Amanda, fears that her tense and painfully shy, 23 yrs. old daughter Laura (Donna O’Brien), who once wore a leg brace – and is ‘still a cripple’ – may never get a boyfriend. Laura spends most of her days listening to her father’s old records, whilst re-arranging and cleaning her miniature, glass animal collection. To help Laura meet people and become an entrepreneur, Amanda enrolled Laura in a business course.
At his mother’s suggestion, Tom had been on the lookout for a suitable beau for Laura. One day at the warehouse, he asks a shipping clerk, Jim (Jake Dennis), a handsome, caring and ambitious man, if he would like to come around for dinner some evening.
The family members in this play are the true menagerie, kept in captivity for self-preservation but could this be the turning point for the whole family?
Merri Ford’s costumes not only reflected the thirties in America, but clearly depicted the personality and status of the characters. Everyone wore a light cream outfit. ‘Damaged’ Laura’s dress was slightly oatmeal hinting at her imperfection. Their saviour, Jim, wore cream clothes but with a white jacket putting him – as their hope – slightly higher; but the ill fit of this jacket still hinted at his poor background. The mother’s dress was correct for her age, but when she dug deep into her trunk for something to make her look like a twenty-year-old again, the simple single layered gauze evening dress correctly made her appear cheap and stupid.
Directed by award winning playwright and director, Jane Hille, this multifaceted play came to life. With no props or scenery to distract, Jane had the audience completely focused on the dialogue, facial expressions, body language and interaction. When actors are talking to each other, invariably they are face to face and side on to the audience; by making both actors face the audience we were able to savour the full emotions of the situation. An unusual technique that must have made it more difficult for the actors to get their timing correct and with no visual guidance to their dialogue from the other actor, but it worked extremely well – unfaltering.
Although frequently indifferent and even callous toward his sister, Tom obviously cares for her, as they find comfort in each other when their intimidating mother is running amok. A few comments in the play suggest that Tom may be struggling with incestuous temptations.
Jane and Andrew are both theatre lecturers at a Christian College, but the rest of the cast are relatively new to the stage. Jake (as Jim) was wonderful as the passionate, caring love interest, although the choice of an olive-skinned actor to play a freckled Irishman was a little surprising.
Donna (as Laura) gave an exceptional performance with genuine tears and quivering as she fought the mental stress. Danielle (as the mother from hell) showed every nuance of her schizophrenic character, with each fibre of her body, an amazing performance. Poor Danielle had to cover extreme rage to self-centred adoration.
James (as the young Tom) is studying at WAAPA so is still relatively inexperienced and yet his performance was mature and skilfully handled.
The chemistry between all the actors was impeccable. Often with screaming or shouting segments, the dialogue becomes blurred and unintelligible, but in this production the cast ensured every word was clear.
As expected from GRADS, this play is top quality, powerful and outspoken, yet sensitively handled.
This is a ‘must see’ production of a modern international masterpiece.