The Glass Menagerie
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Brenda White
Presented by Brisbane Arts Theatre
Season: 19 October – 9 November. Duration two hours 30 minutes with Interval. Bookings: https://www.artstheatre.com.au/theglassmenagerie
The first impression of this production is the dreamlike setting of The Wingfield’s apartment behind a misty scrim, perfectly invoking that Tennessee Williams ‘atmosphere’ that has become associated with his plays over the years.
Tennessee Williams’s beautifully poetic and evocative memory play first premiered more than 70 years ago and catapulted him from obscurity to fame. The Glass Menagerie, more than any of his other works, contains strong autobiographical links to Williams own life. Tom is representative of Williams himself, the histrionic Amanda, his mother, and his older sister Rose was the basis for the fragile Laura.
At the beginning of the play we are introduced to the story of the Wingfield family by the son, Tom, as a memory piece, and therefore everything within may not be exactly accurate. He shares a dingy apartment with his mother, Amanda Wingfield, a faded Southern Belle who yearns for the life she had, and his introverted, crippled sister Laura whose comfort in life is her collection of delicate glass animals and playing her gramophone records. All three characters have difficulties with relating to reality and in Tom’s case, although managing to hold down a job, he prefers to escape into the fantasies provided by literature and the movies.
Amanda becomes obsessed with finding a suitor for Laura, and pressured by his over-bearing mother Tom invites a work colleague home for dinner not realizing that Jim is the boy that Laura was attracted to in high school. This becomes the catalyst for the emotional journey that unfolds for Laura, Amanda and Tom, and which subsequently changes all their lives.
As the narrator and protagonist Tom, Alex Porteous, in an extremely engaging performance, struck just the right note as a son locked into an emotional battle between his loyalty to his sister and mother, and knowing that escape from the confines of his life would mean great harm to both of them.
There perhaps needed to be a little more fire between Tom and Amanda in the confrontation scenes between the two characters, especially as Tom’s frustration with his mother and his longing for escape escalated.
Virginia Gray’s portrayal of the tough survivor and pragmatist Amanda, although a very solid and at times strong performance, needed more variety and passion in her vocal expression of the character, particularly with Amanda’s pathetic retreat into illusion.
In the role of Laura, Bianca Butler-Reynolds delicately portrayed a lonely, introverted young woman terrified of the outside world who retreats into her own private oasis populated by fragile glass animals. At first, maybe a little too awkward, Bianca’s portrayal of Laura really shone in the scene with Jim, swaying to and fro between shy and alluring, showing a vulnerability not seen earlier, and ended with a emotionally strong performance at the end of the play.
In a standout performance as Jim, Jeremy Wood portrayed the gentleman caller, and previous subject of Laura’s affections, with an ease and confidence that made each scene he was in highly watchable. His scenes with Tom were a delight, and the scene where Jim and Laura are alone was the highlight of the evening, and superbly played by both actors. His Jim was confident, yet not arrogant, very likeable, and had an underlying tenderness in his handling of Laura’s lack of self-confidence.
There were some lovely directorial choices by Brenda White in the staging of this piece. A simple yet functional set, decorated in a faded style that matched the circumstances of the family, and the choice of music and lighting helped evoke just the right mood.
However, I felt that the miming of eating dinner detracted from those particular scenes, and was inconsistent since another scene involving drinking of tea was not mimed. I also found that the flow of the play was interrupted by the introduction of scene setting images on the screens to the side of the stage during scene changes. I found this distracting.
If you are, like me, a fan of Tennessee Williams, then this is a solid production which is worth viewing, and if you are not acquainted with his work, then this is a good place to start.