Spotlight: The Glass Menagerie

T. Charles Erickson

For those who slept through high school English: The Glass Menagerie depicts the Wingfields, who have fallen on hard times more than a decade after being abandoned by the family patriarch. Mother Amanda (Harriet Harris) sells magazine subscriptions over the phone and prattles on annoyingly about her genteel Southern upbringing. Sister Laura (Tracey Maloney) is a child in a woman's body, unable to do much of anything but withdraw into a fantasy world of glass figurines. Brother Tom (Randy Harrison) works at a menial job, gets up to no good at night, and seems on the verge of some spectacular personal meltdown. Joe Dowling gets tight yet energetic performances from the core of his cast in this vibrant and accomplished Guthrie production. Maloney's Laura is a standout, transparently terrified of every moment of life. Harris is the linchpin of the operation, though, and she responds by lending Amanda both a fire and sort of demented charm. This characterization vivifies a role typically played as shrill and brittle (she also gives us some of that, mind you, as there's no way around it). Williams tightens the screws ruthlessly, and the second act sees the arrival of Jim (Jonas Goslow), here even shallower and more galactically clueless than one remembers. Dowling splits the part of Tom between Harrison and Bill McCallum, the latter tackling the older Tom's soliloquies with bittersweet humor. The tactic is most effective when Harrison and McCallum share the same space onstage, their dialogue overlapping. This show manages to capture the bleak poetry of Williams's dialogue while wringing humor from it. Though in a couple of instances the jokiness may be a little too broad, hints of levity are welcome in this train-wreck take on family life. More willing to confront the ugliness is set designer Richard Hoover: His ugly, cramped apartment is ringed by malfunctioning neon signs and swaths of corroded metal, the Wingfield's rot writ obvious until the end, when it all slides silently into the darkness.

 
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