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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Review: The Glass Menagerie

Posted By on Wed, Mar 30, 2016 at 1:21 PM

click to enlarge JOHN BARROIS
Tom Wingfield is a restless dreamer stuck in a warehouse job. He wants action and adventure but instead lives with his painfully shy sister and overbearing mother in The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams’ classic drama, currently at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre.

Tom (Curtis Billings) often escapes his family, telling them he’s “going to the movies.” His sister Laura (Lucy Faust) retreats inward and has become so reclusive that she’s lied to their mother Amanda (Annalee Jefferies) about dropping out of school because of anxiety and embarrassment.

Menagerie bears many resemblances to Williams’ own life. His father was a traveling shoe salesman and his mother was puritanical. His sister Rose dealt with severe emotional issues. Tom is in some ways similar to the playwright, and Billings brilliantly manages his complexity. Tom doesn’t feel like he’s being true to himself, and his mother criticizes him often. He becomes emotionally volatile, but he hopes for a better future. Billings is charismatic, which makes Tom sympathetic even when he pursues selfish decisions.

Menagerie is a memory play —a term coined by Williams — and Tom breaks the fourth wall to give context and resolution to the audience. He also says the narrative will be sentimental and underscored by whimsical music. James Bevins’ lighting and Kevin O’Donnell’s sound design make the work feel fresh. Memory can be rose-tinted or nightmarish, and elements such as purple lighting during a fight and violins in interesting moments enhance the show’s dramatic tension.
click to enlarge JOHN BARROIS
Amanda is crushed when she discovers Laura’s deceptions about skipping school. Jefferies shines as a feisty yet refined matriarch. She plays up the melodrama but knows when to back off. Amanda is determined to help Laura find security by procuring a husband. She conspires with Tom to draw the household’s first ever “gentleman caller,” Tom’s friend Jim O’Connor (Kevin Rothlisberger). The formality of the work’s setting is outdated, but Williams’ sensitivity to human emotions keeps it palpable. We can relate to first-date nerves and the mother fretting over her daughter.

Laura walks with a limp and is consumed by self-doubt. Faust pushes the character’s vulnerability, especially when she is forced to interact with Jim. The two knew each other in high school, but Laura was a loner. Jim tries to give her advice, but he is naive, and Rothlisberger gives him enough charm to make his final actions upsetting.

The Glass Menagerie is a brilliant play about complicated family dynamics, and under Maxwell Williams’ direction, this Le Petit production highlights why it stands the test of time. 

The Glass Menagerie
March 31-April 3
7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday
Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, 616 St. Peter St., (504) 522-2081

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