“We have to have complications. You can’t have stories without them,” says character Amanda Wingfield. It is a simple line, and one that works to encapsulate The Glass Menagerie, a play aware of its role as storyteller. When watching the production at the Grande Theatre, one experiences the sentiment of the statement: we desperately want things to go well in our own lives and for the characters we root for, but more than that, perhaps we want good stories. Good stories have complications, and are complicated. This production of Tennessee Williams's classic play about a family desperately trying to find a husband for the shy and disabled daughter draws the audience in with amusement and heartbreak that are, in equal measure, gripping. Standing out in this production are the unique staging and moving performances.
Upon entering the Magnus Stage at the Grand Theatre, one can pick their own seat, but there are only so many options. The seats go only four rows high and circle the stage floor, creating an intimate atmosphere for this theatre in the round. No matter where one sits, one is close to the action on the stage. The blocking is dynamic and fluid, keeping the audience interested in this dialogue heavy play and playing to all sides (something that can be a challenge to theatre in the round if not done well). The intimate staging brings the audience right into the Wingfield apartment and right into the fraught emotions of the show. In Act Two, when the power goes out and the candles are lit, one leans forward to get closer, feeling almost a part of the gentle moment; when the mood changes and Amanda and Tom are screaming at each other, one recoils from feeling too close to their sharp-edged words. The Glass Menagerie is a small cast production of only four actors, and relays the intrinsic dynamics of a shattering family; the intimate staging the round theatre together with the small audience bring out the vulnerability out of these characters. A stellar visual example of this vulnerability is when in Act Two, Laura walks around in bare feet while all the other characters have shoes. The round black floor of the stage is run through with white lines--cracked glass--creating an effect as though Laura is walking on shards of glass, a beautiful visual metaphor that tops the vulnerable atmosphere of the play.
Good staging is met with fantastic performances all around. Though we only meet him in Act Two, Alexander Crowther’s Jim O’Connor is an endearing guy. Really, he’s swell. Amy Keating as Laura is the heart of the show in a quiet but powerful performance that tugs at the heartstrings. Stephen Jackman-Torkoff is the first actor we meet at the start of the show, and he starts the show off with a bang as Tom. A force of nature when giving narrative monologues, and compellingly anguished when acting in character, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff brings energy, and range to his performance. Finally, Sarah Orenstein’s Amanda steals the show, bringing out the most laughs from the audience with her grand performance of the southern belle and hair-pin turns into a devastated, frightened, and desperate mother. Together, these actors all have electric chemistry playing with each other and the audience’s emotions.
The Glass Menagerie was written in 1945, and while we may no longer be living in the era of “gentleman callers”, this intimate production brings one right into the relevance of the play: a story about desire, and family, and memory. The play opened April 4th and is on at The Magnus Stage at the Grand Theatre until April 14th 2018.