Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE (from London, Ont.)

by Lynn on April 11, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

In the McManus Theatre, of the Grand Theatre, London, Ont.

Written by Tennessee Williams

Directed by Megan Watson

Designed by Nick Blais

Music and sound by Christopher Stanton

Cast: Alexander Crowther

Stephen Jackman-Torkoff

Amy Keating

Sarah Orenstein

A delicate gem of a production in the round, that is beautifully acted and beautifully directed.

 The Story. Tom Wingfield is telling us the play we are about to see is a “memory play.” He is our narrator. He is remembering that  time in the 1950s when he lived in a small appartment with his mother Amanda and sister Laura. His father was long gone having fallen in love with long distances.

Tom wanted to be a writer but was stuck working in a warehouse. Amanda tried to earn what money she could by doing odd jobs, one at present was selling subscriptions to a magazine. Laura was a worry. She was painfully shy but Amanda felt that if Laura had a job she could make a living so Laura was enrolled in a business course. When that didn’t work out the last resort was to find a nice young man for her and perhaps they would marry.

 The Production. Director Megan Watson envisioned a production in the round. Her designer Nick Blais made it happen. There are curved swirls of round lights suspended above the stage that suggest large stars in the sky. The playing area is inside a large circle. Around the periphery of which are narrow stands/pedestals about five feet high on which are props that factor heavily in the meaning of the show. Each stand is illuminated. A telephone is on one, Tom’s typewriter is on another, a glass figurine is on another, a Victrola is on another.

Inside the circle is a chaise and a few wood chairs. Because it’s a memory play we are expected to imagine a lot.

Off to one side of the room is a tall case with many shelves full of Laura’s glass figurine collection. Off to another side is the fire escape that leads out of the apartment. Suspended over the audience is a picture of the absent father/husband. It looks like a young Brian Mulroney of sorts, which certainly gave me pause.

When the audience enters and negotiates its way to the seats they must be careful not to nudge any of the stands and thus knock a prop off. Christopher Stanton’s music and soundscape are evocative and suggest that delicate world of memory: there is the sound of tinkling glass, like chimes. There is music that is lilting when suddenly there is the long, high sustained discordant note of a clarinet or oboe. It seems fitting because it suggests the discordant world of the Wingfield family.  I loved the thought of that detail.

You are never in doubt of where you are or who these people are. Amanda Wingfield, as played by Sarah Orenstein, is the genteel, fearless matriarch of this family. There is a grace to Orenstein’s performance so we can see what might have attracted so many gentlemen callers to Amanda when she was younger. A raised eyebrow speaks volumes about how life bewilders and surprises her so often. This is a persistent woman but not a bully. She wants the best for her children and sometimes is overly protective. She is clear thinking when she tries to have Laura work for a living. When all else fails, marriage is the last resort. That is so telling: work first then when all else fails, marriage. She is perhaps more unaware of Tom’s dilemma but still relies on him to cope with paying the bills.

Stephen Jackman-Torkoff plays Tom with a poet’s soul. He is gentle but not weak, you can see the suffocating exasperation he endures in that house. He escapes to the ‘movies’ he says but perhaps these movies serve ‘drinks.’ Jackman-Torkoff ‘s Tom is gentle and loving with Laura and accommodating with effort to Amanda. In the scene when Tom apologises to Amanda for his terrible insult to her, Jackman-Torkoff squirms with regret and guilt. That pain made me weepy. That has never happened before with that scene, for me. Theatre is always full of surprises. And in the end, when he is trying to escape his sister’s hold on him, he is one long ache of remorse.

Amy Keating’s Laura is certainly this Amanda’s daughter. Shyness aside, Laura has a toughness that makes her endure not going to class but occupying her whole day to fool her mother. Amanda is resourceful in trying to find work. Laura is resourceful in trying to fool her mother. Tennessee Williams paints a picture of two women who seem to get ‘sick at the stomach’ when disappointment or distress affects them. In her scene with Jim, the Gentleman Caller (Alexander Crowther),  Keating musters some bravery because she is comfortable with him and asks about his singing etc. The change in her, the liveliness and joy is startling and magical.

For his part Alexander Crowther as Jim is courtly, polite and gentlemanly. You can see how life has let him down, he is disappointed but not discouraged. He is hopeful and is working hard to improve his life. The problem of course it that his perfect partner in life is Laura. She remembers his glory and supports everything he does. That buoys him. But he is engaged to Betty, who in “many ways is perfect for him.” That qualifier makes one suck air. That he says he has ‘strings’ on him is another, and that he can’t be late to pick Betty up at the train station or there might be hell to pay. How long do we give this marriage? Exactly.

The beauty of the Gentleman Caller scene is that in one tiny, perfect scene we see what might have been between Laura and Jim. Laura gets her ‘love-affair’, a dance, a kiss, and some chewing gum. How perfect is that? And Jim will realize that Laura was his chance for happiness.

With her sensitive direction, Megan Watson brought all this out in her exquisite production. From a simply logistical point of view, she manoeuvred the cast around the space effortlessly so that there was no part of a scene in which we missed some important point. The relationships were beautifully established. The love, ache, hurt, disappointment, longing and possibilities for a better future are all there in that production.

Comment. What a bold decision to make this a production in the round with just the simplest of props strategically located around the set.

It was interesting to see how they handled some of the difficult language for a 2018 audience. In the original text when Laura is clearing the table, Amanda tells her to rest that Laura can become the lady and Amanda will ‘be the darky.” Language that is not acceptable today. I’ve heard that word changed to “coloured boy” in other productions. In this version Amanda says she will be “the servant boy.” Nicely done if one does not want to offend our modern sensibilities.

The Grand Theatre can boast another splendid production which is getting to be par for the course.

The Grand Theatre Presents:

Opened: April 4, 2018.

Closes: April 14, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours, 30 minuets.

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1 Brian Stein April 20, 2018 at 4:47 pm

Are you going to see Chariots of Fire?