"I am the opposite of a stage magician," Tom Wingfield says in the opening monologue of The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams' first big hit, which recently received a stunning production at Marigny Theatre. "He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant guise of illusion."
Tom (Keith Launey) narrates the play about the caged, stressful life of his family. Some elements of the memory play reach beyond the action. Although best known by his pen name, Williams' real name was Tom. In the play, Tom wants to be a writer but supports the family by working in a warehouse. His only friend, Jim O'Connor (Leon Contavesprie), calls him Shakespeare because of his secretive writing.
Tom's father is long gone, and his mother, Amanda Wingfield (Lyla Hay Owen), is the driving force of the play. She conjures an illusory past inhabited by gallant Southern swains she calls "gentlemen callers." She recounts a single day's 17 suitors as a triumph of her youth. She could have married into money and social prominence but, she tells her children, "I settled for your father."
Tom's sister Laura (Liz Mills) walks with a limp. Amanda's ebullient ego and embellished past increase Laura's self-consciousness. Her ornamental glass animals parallel her own fragile beauty and give the play its central symbol.
Clouds gather over this already unhappy world when we learn Laura has secretly dropped out of business college. Amanda demands that Tom bring a coworker home to supper. Somehow, she will get a gentleman caller for Laura.
Williams took a radical gamble by shifting the focus of the play to an encounter between Laura and Jim (Leon Contavesprie), a man on whom she once had a distant crush. Jim, however, is not an eligible bachelor. Contavesprie and Mills filled the doomed reunion of these two decent young people with wrenching poignancy. Owen brought the difficult and eccentric Amanda to life. Glenn Meche directed the production with a sure hand. Here's hoping he brings it back with the same cast, so more theatergoers can fall under its spell. — Dalt Wonk