A touch of glass

The Glass Menagerie

Drawing to an inevitably sad    conclusion: Dalia Gerdel, Joel Hengstler and Terri Bortot in  The Glass Menagerie.

Drawing to an inevitably sad conclusion: Dalia Gerdel, Joel Hengstler and Terri Bortot in The Glass Menagerie.

Photo By Lauren Randolph

Rated 4.0

Opening night of The Glass Menagerie was cold and rainy—the perfect backdrop for Tennessee Williams’ melancholy “memory play.” Even better, this debut production by fledgling theater troupe Good Luck Macbeth was held in a church—ideal for a company starting out on a wing and prayer, jumping bravely into a challenging, much-loved play.

As the lights dimmed, and I made myself as comfortable as possible on my poorly padded pew, the sanctuary immediately took on a warm, cozy feeling as we were swept into the 1930s and the memories of Tom Wingfield, our narrator. Tom, wearing a black skull cap and pea coat and smoking a cigarette, is played by tall, lanky Joel Hengstler, perfectly cast as the sensitive poet and reluctant bread winner of the Wingfield family.

Tom’s painful memories feature his sister, Laura (Dalia Gerdel) and their domineering mother, Amanda, played by a wiry Terri Bortot. The Wingfields have led a sad existence ever since the patriarch of the family, a telephone man who “fell in love with long distance,” left them years ago.

Laura, crippled from something that is neither explained nor portrayed on stage, is also cripplingly shy and constantly fretting over her brother, who is clearly miserable over having to forego his creative dreams to work in a warehouse and support his family. Tom’s incessant fights with their shrewish mother only drive Laura further into her own mind; her only society is her collection of glass animals, which are as fragile as she is.

Amanda Wingfield, a bitter ex-Southern belle who has been left with frustrated dreams to raise her troubled children alone, is by turns pitiful, loving and irritating as hell. Amanda’s character dominates the play, and she’s the center and primary voice of Act 1. Yet, speaking as someone who grew up in the South, I found her phony Southern accent, with its overly long and overly accented syllables, a bit too tough to bear.

Yet, you might say this was a brilliant casting move by co-directors Scott Reeves (an RN&R contributor) and Ellen Reiterman. After all, Amanda’s constant harping on Laura and Tom—to go to school, to chew more slowly, to find a husband, to report on their every move—should be irritating, to emphasize the misery of the Wingfields’ situation and Tom’s desperation to escape from it.

Among Amanda’s demands is that Tom bring home a “gentleman caller” from the warehouse—someone who might find Laura attractive enough to marry and take off Amanda’s hands. Enter Jim O’Connor, Tom’s best friend from work and an old high school crush of Laura’s. It’s at this point that The Glass Menagerie sparkles.

O’Connor, played beautifully by co-director Reeves, is affable, funny and adorable, and has Amanda completely wrapped around his finger. In a scene beautifully lit by candlelight, Laura and Jim get to know each other, and the chemistry between them is so strong that in the intimate church sanctuary, I almost felt as if I were intruding.

As the play draws to its inevitably sad conclusion, Tom, eyes brimming, delivers a powerful, emotional monologue that details the Wingfields’ fate. By now, even with bottoms aching from three hours in a church pew, and ears aching from a tiresome accent, our hearts still ache for the Wingfields. And that is the mark of success for this new theater troupe, who I’m sure will enjoy “good luck.”