Weston’s ‘Glass Menagerie’ achingly exquisite

By David Lampe-Wilson
©2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Weston Playhouse buttons up its 2015 season with an achingly exquisite production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. This American classic is a touchstone of 20th century theater, a play that broke down barriers between actor and audience, tinkered with time and place, and turned life into very personal art.

All photos courtesy the Weston Playhouse

Eric Gilde’s Tom is brooding and ‘takes command of several long monologues.’ All photos courtesy the Weston Playhouse

“Being a memory play,” our Narrator tells us, “it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic. In memory everything seems to happen to music. That explains the fiddle in the wings.” True to Williams’ vision, director Kristen Coury and her team fuse light, music and sound effects into a magical experience. The smoothness and delicacy of the production often suggests the cinematic — a fitting place for three people who cannot live entirely in the real world.

In Act I, we learn that the play is set in 1937; it is the time of the Great Depression and the specter of war hovers on the horizon. Amanda Wingfield was brought up with privilege and is now desperate to secure her family’s future.

Her son Tom (who also functions as Narrator) is a brooding, restless factory worker who dreams of escaping the constraints of his tiny world but he uses movies, alcohol and writing poetry to do so.

Her daughter Laura is awkward and painfully shy, immersed in an fantasy world of glass animals. They are each haunted by illusion and it is illusion that becomes their obstacle to finding happiness.

In Act II, hope and optimism enter under the name of Jim O’Connor, a young man Tom knows from work and who he has invited home at the urging of his mother to meet Laura and become her “gentleman caller.” It is Jim who, unknowingly, will determine the future of the Wingfield family.

Amy Van Norstram's Amanda is a 'fully realized'

From left, Amy Van Nostrand’s Amanda is a ‘fully realized’ creation. Andrea Lynn Green’s Laura ‘quickly gains our empathy; it is a heartbreaking performance.’

Amy Van Nostrand’s Amanda is a fully realized creation: warm, funny, scolding, silly, exasperated and desperate at turns. We believe her concern for her children, and we fully understand the formation of her character. Andrea Lynn Green has found ways of skirting the problem of playing Laura as a dull girl by giving her an energy that, instead of vibrancy, plays as immaturity. Desperation haunts her eyes and she quickly gains our empathy; it is a heartbreaking performance.

Seen during a preview performance, Eric Gilde’s Tom takes command of several long monologues, but at times of emotional stress evokes the decidedly overwrought. Still, when a scene calls for a more intellectual frame of mind, Gilde imparts the long passages with splashes of color and shaded nuance. Ben Jacoby is commanding as Jim O’Connor/The Gentleman Caller. Jacoby injects the play with an assured dose of hope and optimism, and his seemingly effortless demeanor is a pleasure to watch.

Jim and  Laura

Green’s Laura with Ben Jacoby as Jim O’Connor/The Gentleman Caller. Jacoby’s ‘seemingly effortless demeanor is a pleasure to watch.’

Production elements are stellar: Scenic designer Daniel Conway offers a flexible setting on a very tiny stage. Lighting designer Jiyoun Chang works hand-in-hand with Christopher Colucci’s music compositions and sound to make transitions between scenes appear natural and seamless. Kirche Leigh Zeile’s costumes fit their characters splendidly.

The Glass Menagerie was one of Tennessee Williams most personal plays, and it was his first major success as a playwright. The new Weston Playhouse production reminds us why it was a sensation 70 years ago, and why it remains one of the best American plays of the last century

The Glass Menagerie continues through Sept. 5 at The Weston Playhouse, 703 Main St., in Weston. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; matinees at 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday, and at 3 p.m. Sunday. For tickets click here or call 802-824-5288.

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About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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