Saturday, March 10, 2012

THE GLASS MENAGERIE • Dramatic License Productions

The first show of DLP's third season is one that I'd never seen before.  Yes, I know -- I'm always late to the party.  According to the posted director's notes, when Tennessee Williams wrote this memory play in 1944, he wanted to make use of "expressionistic" and "unconventional" techniques like "magic lantern slides bearing images".  We call them projections, but still, pretty uncustomary for its day.  Again -- this was my first time seeing this, but Bill Whitaker's sensitive direction seems to take cues from the playwright's intentions with accompanying projections along with musical punctuations throughout.

When the lights come up on the fragile world of the Wingfield family, set in late 1930's St. Louis, Tom (Antonio Rodriguez) sets the stage as our narrator for the play.  We learn that the patriarch of the family abandoned them years ago, and though he never makes an appearance, his portrait hangs over the proceedings and he is often referred to.  Because of his absence, Tom tries to support his mother and sister with a warehouse job at Continental Shoes.  He aspires to be a poet, and his current job is mind-numbing for him, so he spends a lot of his free time at the movies to break out from under the thumb of his own boring life.  His smothering and controlling mother Amanda (Kim Furlow), relies on Tom to keep the family afloat, but the pressure of Tom's confinement is evident from the beginning.  Amanda has a tendency to drift off into these reveries about her fine upbringing, fine prospects, and her "that time I had seventeen gentleman callers" days, and she tries, as best she can, to infuse her kids with that same desire and motivation for a respectable, fulfilling life.  This includes her desperation to find a suitable match for her daughter Laura.  Laura has a bad foot resulting from a bout with pleurosis when she was younger, and a terrible insecurity about herself and an anxious fear of the outside world.  Everyone in this play has a means of breaking away -- Tom goes to the movies, Amanda recollects past glories, and Laura finds her solace in the victrola and her collection of tiny glass animals -- her favorite being her glass unicorn.

Kim Furlow (Amanda Wingfield).
Photo credit: John Lamb
When Amanda finds out that Tom, partly for her sake, has invited a co-worker over, "just for dinner", Amanda clenches the opportunity for a fix-up between Laura and this seemingly respectable young man.  This gentleman caller (Tom Lehmann) was captain of the football team, an impressive baritone in his school's production of The Pirates of Penzance, and went to high school with the Wingfield kids.  Laura, having had a huge crush on him, is terrified at the prospect of seeing him.  Powder-keg evening anyone?  Yeah.  Some crucial moments of the second act play out on, or involve the apartment's fire escape -- interesting because of the symbolic representations of the fire escape, where the sounds of the nightclub across the alley can be heard, where you go to smoke cigarettes, and where you can make a wish on the moon.  Though Tom is the only one able to escape, his mind remains haunted by his family that he, like his father, left behind.

Macia Noorman (Laura Wingfield) and
Tom Lehmann (The Gentleman Caller, Jim O'Connor).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This play is considered the closest thing to an autobiography Tennessee Williams had ever written.  Our storyteller Tom would be Williams (whose real name was Thomas), and Laura would be his real-life sister Rose ("Blue Roses" -- a nickname given to Laura in the play).

Antonio Rodriguez, serving as master of ceremonies for the night, delivers the lyrical narratives beautifully.  It's also easy to sense his frustration and increasing longing to be rid of his family.  Kim Furlow's Amanda is stern, imposing and a little sad.  A scene that involves her goings on about jonquils, her favorite flower, presumably a representation of her lost youth, is a little unsettling because it's a chilling display of her tenuous grasp of reality.  Macia Noorman as Laura exhibits a subtly turned in foot, and an uncertain nervous quality that makes you feel for her and her alienated comfort within the walls of her home.  Tom Lehmann's Jim O'Connor  shows the swagger of a high school popular guy, but he carries his own need for escape, and genuinely connects with Laura.

Antonio Rodriguez (Tom Wingfield) and
Kim Furlow (Amanda Wingfield).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The set is bathed in soft lights, (Max Parrilla), and sometimes renders the characters in silhouette -- a nice touch.  Courtney Sanazaro-Sloey's scenic design gives us a nice deep set with the dining room in the background, the parlor and all important glass menagerie in the foreground.  The costumes (Jane Sullivan) and sound design (Joseph T. Pini), along with Michael Perkins's projection design make wonderful contributions to the play's feel.

I admit, there's so much analysis out there on the web about The Glass Menagerie, I kinda geeked out reading about some of it, and it was exciting to finally see it in person.  Check it out -- it's playing until the 18th.


Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Bill Whitaker
Dramatic License Productions, Chesterfield Mall (upper level entrance, next to Houlihans)
through March 18 | tickets: $22 - $25
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Macia Noorman (Laura Wingfield).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Kim Furlow (Amanda Wingfield), Macia Noorman (Laura Wingfield),  Antonio Rodriguez (Tom Wingfield) and Tom Lehmann (The Gentleman Caller, Jim O'Connor).

Scenic design by Courtney Sanazaro-Sloey; lighting design by Max Parrilla; costume design by Jane Sullivan; sound design by Joseph T. Pini; projections design by Michael Perkins; stage manager, Katie Faltus.

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