(Photo by Tracey Roman)
Written by Patrick Chavis
This was my first time watching Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie performed on stage. Like many people I studied this play in high school and read through the entire text, so I had a good idea of what to expect. Yet somehow after watching the production at International City Theatre, it really felt like I was being introduced to this material for the first time. It’s weird to have this story in your head that you’ve known for years, and then have your preconceived notions about it totally change when you watch it play out on stage. ICT’s version of this famous play is a solid, straight forward take on one of the richest stories, plays or narratives written in the 20th century.
The Glass Menagerie (“TGM“) is a memory play told from the perspective of Tom Wingfield. The story centers around the Wingfield family trying to survive in 1930s St. Louis during the Great Depression. The absent father is an alcoholic who left his family to fend for themselves, putting in motion many of the problems that the family deals with. Older sibling Tom (Ty Mayberry) develops alcoholic issues of his own; the daughter Laura Wingfield (Lizzie Zerebko) is disabled and extremely shy while mother Amanda Wingfield (Jennifer Parsons) has become a bossy, troubled woman who worries excessively about the wellbeing of her family. What makes the story of TGM so interesting is you can watch it in two different ways. For example, at the beginning of the play, we are told that this story is told from the perspective of Tom and that this is a memory play. Even if you don’t understand the concept that it’s a memory play, you are still left with a pretty powerful story about the struggles people went through in the 1930s and what they did to cope. But if you consider the play in its’ entirety along with the added concept of memory, then the show goes way beyond the performances you see on the stage. A whole new layer of the story is added when you consider that it takes place from the perspective of Tom and only Tom–as such, not everything that we see is guaranteed to be one hundred percent accurate.
The staging and direction of this story was well thought out. You have the two parts of the house on stage that are used in the play –the living room and the kitchen. The kitchen and living room are split up by a see-through veil. As the audience, we can see through the veil but we are meant to believe this is some sort of boundary. While the personalities are intensified caricatures of reality, the performances were never over the top and fit with the concept of the character being portrayed. The blocking of the actors and the use of light were executed quite well and helped to further create the feeling of melancholy.
The performance from Jennifer Parsons (Amanda Wingfield) was energetic, real and she made you feel compassion for a pretty annoying and controlling character. You believe even at her most self-centered that this mother has good intentions for her children. Ty Mayberry’s (Tom Wingfield) narration and comedic timing at certain moments were surprisingly entertaining. Laura Wingfield (played by Lizzie Zerebko) may be the toughest character to portray in the entire play. Her character is constantly withholding who she is from the audience because of her immense shyness. Zerebko was able to communicate, through very little dialogue in some parts, that Lizzie was broken but also a kind and thoughtful person. I knew where the story with her character was going already, but it didn’t matter because her performance trumped my thoughts. Emillo Garcia-Sanchez (Jim O’Connor) was entertaining to watch, and his confident, bravado, nice-guy-stepping-in performance is endearing and brings up deeper questions that could be swept under the rug with the wrong direction.
ICT’s rendition of The Glass Menagerie is one of the better plays I’ve seen in 2018, and the best play I’ve experienced at the ICT theatre in Long Beach. It stays faithful to the material and each character is allowed to shine.
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