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There are a very few great plays in the history of theatre that bear repeated viewing and seem fresh every time you see them. The Glass Menagerie is one. It’s not even Tennessee Williams’ best play—that honour goes to Streetcar—but it remains poignant, poetic and powerful. This nicely understated production directed by Mel Austin-Tuck lets you hear all its grace notes.
The narrator character Tom was young Williams himself, wrestling with his homosexuality (all those late night movies Tom goes to), desperate to escape the family trap so he could pursue his art, and ravaged with guilt for having done so. Andrew Coughlan’s dry, wry Tom, with his Mississippi drawl, shows us all that subtext as well as a couple of explosive moments when Tom can no longer contain the life and lies that are filling and killing him.
Gina Leon’s Laura is also good, not as obviously fragile as Laura is often played. She made me realize, for the first time, what a pain in the ass Laura would be to live with: an adult child who won’t leave home and just hangs around all day. Of course Laura’s shyness is pathological, and Leon makes those moments really count when Laura literally can’t stand to attend typing class or answer the door for her gentleman caller. Her scene with that character, played with quiet confidence by Michael Germant, is genuinely charming, hinting at just how “normal” her life might be with just a slight shift of circumstances—which we know, sadly, will never happen for her.
Tom and Laura’s mother, Amanda, is of course the tragicomic centre of the play. Slightly larger than life, living in her dream of an elegant Southern past, she can easily fall into caricature or self-parody. Lynne Griffin as Amanda will have none of that. The chuckle that accompanies each of Griffins’ lines tells us what an irrepressible optimist Amanda is. When she tells Tom, “Just keep on trying and you’re bound to succeed,” she really means it. But she’s also a woman without money or a job in the midst of the Great Depression, deserted by her husband and soon by her son, and unable to save her damaged daughter. Griffin lets us see that side of her, too, the realist who loves her kids more than anything. Her exchanges with Laura and Tom never veer into over-exaggeration. Her response when Tom tells her a gentleman caller is coming to dinner—tomorrow—is especially sweet.
The only thing I don’t like about this production is the long, cheesy special effect of swirling coloured lights and spooky music when Laura plays with her glass menagerie—as if the title of the play were a flashing neon sign. The actors let us know all we need to.