Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
A beautiful, almost ethereal production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie opened Friday at Flint Repertory Theatre (REP). It is a riveting glimpse inside a world of emotional family relationships and the angst endured in their efforts to find contentment.
Director Michael Lluberes has chosen to unfold this “memory play” in an intimate space created by locating audience and playing area together on a black-draped stage. The characters are close up where playgoers can feel included in the action.
Williams coined the term “memory play” to describe this narrated piece. Michael Lopetrone tells the story as both narrator and character Tom Wingfield, and scenes evolve based on that telling. Lopetrone opens the action by directly addressing the audience. He sets the scene and the tone by explaining that he will turn back time, and he also speaks of the other characters in the play. Lopetrone presents this character as intense and certainly frustrated, creative and caring, but driven to escape.
Janet Haley is Tom’s mother, Amanda Wingfield. Amanda is beautiful and kind, but also a tad silly in her reminiscences of a Mississippi girlhood long gone. Her children are her focus and she finds it vexing that they cannot seem to understand the lifestyle she has held in her mind for them. Haley brings an intriguing air of gentility and spunk to this role. She is wistful one minute and scolding the next, yet she portrays the futility that Amanda perceives as her life with pain and even comic grace.
Playing Laura Wingfield, Meredith Deighton brings out Laura’s excruciating shyness and her near complete escape into her music and her glass collection. Deighton is marvelous in this role; her panic and her fear are real as is her near emergence from both in Act 2 with the gentleman caller.
That gentleman is Jim O’Connor, a co-worker of Tom’s. Scott Anthony Joy’s portrayal is refreshing and outgoing. He is a breath of the outside world when he comes to call. The slow realization that he and Laura knew each other in high school is intriguing to watch as she begins to come out of her shell.
Joy’s character is the one “normal” fellow in this story, but even he has secrets. He crafts this fellow as a smiling, polite, compassionate and overall nice guy.
Set in an alley in St. Louis, the play employs a sparsely furnished space with only the necessities. There is much use of “fire escapes”, and with careful use of lighting effects and by leaving the rigging exposed the tenement effect is enhanced.
Indeed, lighting is key in this production. Williams specifically dictates that the stage be dim and unrealistic. In the second act the lights go out and the use of candles is handled nicely to create an even more otherworldly atmosphere.
Overall, this is an exceptionally impressive production of an American masterpiece. The REP is to be congratulated for bringing this amazing level of creative expertise to our own backyard. It should not be missed.
The Glass Menagerie continues at Flint Repertory Theatre, 1220 E. Kearsley St, Flint, MI 48503 through April 14. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at www.FlintRep.org