Tennessee Williams' deeply personal masterpiece, The Glass Menagerie, has, perhaps in some people's estimation, been done to death. However, lucky for me, I've only read the play but never seen it performed -- this includes the 1950 MGM movie.
And, quite honestly, I feel satisfyingly spoiled by Redtwist Theatre's intimate, heartbreaking and darkly humorous production, now playing through September 2.
Redtwist's cozy storefront space seats only about 50, yet set designer Henry Behel manages to capture both the trapped, claustrophobic nature of the Wingfield's St. Louis flat as well as the dreamy, suspended-in-time tone Williams' so carefully, yet bluntly, establishes in Tom's up-front monologue. Quite brilliantly, Behel uses a good chunk of Redtwist's limited space to provide distance between the main action and a giant mural of the family patriarch, who abandoned his family 16 years ago and left them reeling with regret and anger. His smiling, silent -- nearly smirking -- visage perpetually veers at the action from a removed distance -- a symbol that some might find heavy handed, but I found chilling.
Working hardest to preserve the future of the Wingfield family is Amanda, a quintessential faded southern belle who frequently escapes to the past, citing the day she once courted 17 gentleman callers with unapologetic glee. But she's equally obsessed with the future -- particularly the future of her painfully shy and moderately handicapped daughter, Laura. Redtwist ensemble member Jacqueline Grandt brings a Blanche Devereaux-esque quality to Amanda. You can clearly see the once vivacious woman underneath the perpetually furrowed brow, indicating a woman whose over-rehearsed charms mask her deep anxiety. Her pragmatic mind is always thinking, thinking, thinking. She only wants to do right by her children, even if it means hen pecking them until they succumb or flee. It's a wonderfully effective performance that provides the engine for the rest of the play.
Sarah Mayhan (a waif-like actress, not unlike Laura's fragile glass animals) captures Laura's crushed spirit so well, it's almost painful to watch. Her desire to please her mother, while knowing full well that she can't, makes for one of the most heartbreaking relationships in modern drama. The only person she can open up to is her brother, Tim (the equally high-strung and bird-like Ryan Heindl), and he's already one foot out the door, ready to chase his own dreams rather than have them crushed by his overbearing mother.
And, just when things can't look any worse, enter the gentleman caller (the charming Chris Daley), who is, as suspected, too good to be true.
Director Josh Altman certainly knows his way around a Williams play, with great credit given to casting and Redtwist's production team. This Menagerie will haunt me for quite a while.
"The Glass Menagerie" plays through September 2 at Redtwist Theatre. More info here.