Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Glass Menagerie Theatre Review

Thomas Keegan & Jenna Sokolowski (r) star in The Glass Menagerie (Photo: Scott Suchman)

Hello. Good-Bye.

Tom (Tom Story) promises early on, to "give you the truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion." Not sure about illusion per se; but there's plenty of harsh reality in Tennessee Williams' brilliant four-character play The Glass Menagerie, playing now (through February 21st) at Ford's Theatre. There's also an abundance of charm, despair and excellent acting to compliment one of my personal favorite plays of the 21st century. Add it up, and you have an early frontrunner for best show of 2016.

Williams incorporated plenty of life experiences into his breakthrough production, which makes it all the more compelling. Families are complicated entities, and the Wingfields are certainly no exception. Pops took off for Mexico, leaving wife Amanda (Madeleine Potter) to raise Tom and Laura (Jenna Sokolowski) all by her lonesome. No easy task, especially in St. Louis around the Great Depression. Harder still, when we come to realize that Tom & Laura are relatively massive underachievers.

Everyone (including Mom) has issues, and no shortage of resentment... with the possible exception of Laura, who's apparently too shy to leave the house, yet alone catch the eye of a potential suitor. Desperation sets in, and Amanda & Tom arrange a "blind date" of sorts with Tom's co-worker Jim (Thomas Keegan) post-intermission. It ain't easy (trust me) but sparks eventually start to fly in a sweet & charming seventh scene.

Potter's a bonafide hoot as the outspoken matriarch of Williams' dysfunctional family. Her once-promising life has taken a turn for the worse; but it's clear, she hasn't given up yet. Unfortunately, she doesn't have much to work with. Tom's a wannabe poet with a dead-end job and a serious itch to follow in dad's footsteps, while Laura limps about on eggshells. If only they could be more like Amanda.

This is especially true, when Amanda pours on the Southern charm and hospitality towards Jim. Even Laura notices a change in the air, "You make it seem like we're setting a trap," to which Amanda proudly declares, "We are!" She clearly has an agenda (marry off her daughter, latch on to a winner) but despite her intrusiveness and questionable methods, you can't help but like her. Kudos to Potter for that: She's sassy and fun, and her character seems to deserve a lot better.

The same can be said for Sokolowski's Laura, who sleepwalks through the first half before (literally) coming to life towards the end. She's so cute, fumbling through her encounter with the decidedly more worldly Jim. Whether it's breaking off a "piece" of gum, or experiencing her first dance/kiss, Laura becomes more likable (and enlightened) by the minute.

The set is simple, yet effective. A chair, sofa, dining table, old phonograph and Laura's glass collectibles are pretty much it... with a ceiling-to-floor metal fire escape dominating the background (but never put in use.) There's also a brief video accompaniment at the beginning and end; but it's a mere distraction at best (and thus unnecessary.)

Then again, with four exceptional actors (two making their Ford's debuts - Keegan & Potter) there isn't much need for splashy extras. The Glass Menagerie is a compelling, straight forward story with an air of misfortune surrounding engulfing it. Amanda & Jim yearn for the past, while Tom & Laura hope for some/any kind of future. Will any of them find solace or (shudder) happiness? It won't be easy; but it's definitely entertaining.

Grade: B+

The Glass Menagerie continues at Ford's Theatre through Sunday, February 21st. Click here for showtimes and tickets.