Written by Alina Mae Wilson
It’s kind of funny that even though I remember reading the play for school, before last night, I don’t think I would have been able to tell you that much about the story. Perhaps I only partially read the script. Or perhaps I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have been. I suppose it would be fitting then for me to only recollect part of it, because, as the narrator and leading man Tom is kind enough to inform us at the start, this is not a true-to-life depiction of the events as they happened in his life. This is, as he says, a “memory” and an “illusion.” More specifically it’s his memory, and he’s weaving the illusion. Needless to say, a plot that starts off so clearly committed to pondering the question “What is real?” is a story that promises to be interesting, if not downright thought-provoking.
It’s 1937, and The Wingfield family lives a trap-like existence in a poor St. Louis apartment. Abandoned by their husband and father years ago, mother and daughter are supported by their son/brother Tom’s warehouse salary. It’s enough to keep the lights on but can’t prevent Amanda, the mother, from living in a constant state of dread regarding her daughter’s future. Bound to a job he loathes, responsible for a disabled sister and with his mother’s ceaseless criticism and prating crushing him, Tom longs for adventure and freedom. With the entire family stuck in a trap of misery, their chances for joy and success hinge on one thing — successfully luring a gentleman caller into their clan.
As I already said, Tom states outright at the start of the show that the story as we are seeing it is part memory, part illusion. This makes for quite a thought-provoking evening because you walk away from the experience picking the characters apart and wondering how much of the story is real and how much is exaggeration if not outright fabrication.
The characters are minutely close to being caricatures, and the closer to face value they are, the closer they are too facing the audience’s criticisms. Tom (Charlie Battaglia) is a complainer. Mother Amanda (played by Carla Narragon) is half rat-in-a-maze and half insane fairy godmother. Laura (played to perfection by Lauren Rosen) is so fragile she seems likely to shatter into a million pieces and old high school buddy Jim (played by Nathan Schafer) has the appearance of being a perfect friend and companion but turns out to be more than what he seems. While no one searches for an escape from their sufferings and anxieties more frantically or openly than Amanda, you will find yourself searching for the escape valve just as this family does, wondering whether or not they will ever be truly liberated from their misfortunes.
The set serves its purpose as an apartment, but I feel like it could have been a little better. It’s a humble set, one that is almost but not quite black box, with a couch and a dining room table, and a petite glass unicorn that serves as a stand-in for the entire glass menagerie. It seems like an attempt at being halfway between a well-furnished apartment, and one that simply relies entirely on the imagination. It’s better to either rely completely on imagination and the actors’ talents or be entirely realistic because a simple room that has only a few props here and there seems a bit lacking in life.
My favorite thing about this show is watching Laura (Rosen). Her timorous demeanor is enough to fill anyone with sympathy, and while every character has my support, no one’s success was more heavily championed in my heart than Laura’s. You wonder whether she will ever gain strength, (or the strength and support of another person) and I cannot imagine anyone watching this and hating her. This is in direct contrast with her overbearing mother, irritable brother, and self-centered house guest Jim, all of whom I think it would be very easy to hate (as people, not performers. The performers are very good). You come to understand where everyone in the show is coming from, but, as I believe is intended, I don’t think anyone will steal your heart the way Laura does.
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Jan 25 – Feb 10, 2019