Hearts of glass

Riverfront Theatre offers an enjoyable production of an American classic

Brian Hurley, Cathy Gabrielli (back row), Jaimi Ficco and Amber Edsall (front row) perform in Riverfront Theatre’s production of<i> The Glass Menagerie.</i>

Brian Hurley, Cathy Gabrielli (back row), Jaimi Ficco and Amber Edsall (front row) perform in Riverfront Theatre’s production of The Glass Menagerie.

Rated 4.0

In Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, the fragile line between fantasy and reality combines with a Depression-era family’s inability to adapt to a changing society, which eventually shatters their artificially structured world.

The Riverfront Theatre does a commendable job with its production of this classic American play, which takes place in the Wingfield family’s St. Louis apartment. The set consisted of a chair, a dining table, a Victrola, a photo portrait of the Wingfields’ absent patriarch and a table displaying Laura Wingfield’s treasured glass figurines.

Tom Wingfield (Brian Hurley) revisits his past, assuming the roles of the narrator and a character. As he introduced each character, the sound of shattered glass followed each name. Jazz music played overhead, complementing the smooth, detached demeanor of Tom the narrator, although at first it was a little loud and competed with the narration. The more plaintive music that was used to indicate a sad or emotional scene struck me as bit schmaltzy. Just a minor complaint.

But there’s nothing to complain about regarding the performances. Amber Edsall convincingly played the physically and emotionally crippled Laura, who is unable to function in the real world and is regarded as a liability to her cash-strapped family. Despite her mother Amanda’s hope for a “gentleman caller” to rescue Laura from a spinster’s fate, her future appears grim. It’s not until well into the second half of the play, when her character briefly opens up to her one gentleman caller, that the audience gets some insight into Laura’s mind—only for it to be permanently shut again when her romantic hopes are dashed.

Like Laura, Amanda (Cathy Gabrielli) also lives in her own little world, one inhabited by the gentlemen callers of her privileged, carefree youth, who represent a life that used to be or could have been.

Although she may mean well for her children, her constant nagging threatens to push away her son, Tom, who struggles with loyalty to his family and his desire to escape their oppressive grasp. Gabrielli does an excellent job as Amanda, nicely combining pluck and Southern charm into her character, making the performance enjoyable to watch.

The characters of Tom and Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller, are also played well. Hurley handles both his roles as Tom the narrator and Tom the character with ease. Deserted by his father, Tom resents having to work at a shoe warehouse to support his domineering mother and reclusive sister. His frequent trips to bars and midnight movies temporarily relieves his frustration, but it also increases friction between him and his mother, who worries he will turn out like his father—which he inevitably does. Jaimi Ficco makes Jim a likeable figure, despite the fact that he’s oblivious to the damage his rejection does to Laura and her family’s future.

I didn’t get a chance to see the Riverfront Theatre’s first production, Charley’s Aunt, but judging by this performance and the size of the crowd that attended the night I went, the Riverfront seems to be doing well for a young theater. By offering well-known plays and musicals—including Damn Yankees this summer—it should attract the theater novice, as well as the more traditional theater-goer. It may not be avant-garde theater, but the Riverfront appears to be filling its niche nicely.