“The Glass Menagerie” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ March 29, 2010


Arizona Theatre Company, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

“The Glass Menagerie” marked Tennessee Williams first playwrighting success. The touching memory play draws on Williams’ own life. It focuses on the Wingfield’s that portray his bizarre family.

This masterpiece is often done incompetently but Arizona Theatre Company mounts it magnificently. Not only is it brilliantly acted but director Juliette Carrillo’s revelatory production adds new dimensions to the play, set in the 1930s.

There’s Amanda, Tom and Laura’s domineering but genteel mother, the fragile, dreamy but handicapped Laura, and Tom, Williams’ persona, who plays narrator and son. Tom’s father disappeared years ago, leaving Amanda to raise the children. Tom and Laura have been harmed by Amanda’s meddling bossiness. Tom, a frustrated writer, supports them with a menial job while Laura’s obsession with her handicap keeps her from facing life as she exists in an imaginary world populated with glass animals. Amanda worries that Laura has no “gentlemen callers” and she begs Tom to ask Jim, a young man from work, to come for dinner. After Jim dances and kisses Laura, he reveals his engagement and shatters Laura.

What Carrillo’s staging does is deconstruct the play. She has her actors recite stage directions to help stress Williams’ carefully planned environment. The production opens on a bare stage. Throughout the play, the tenement apartment the family inhabits is built leading to the dinner when Laura’s fragile world looks to be coming together. When Jim ruins this illusion, the set disappears as Amanda and Laura’s life is left without hope as Tom abandons them. This inventive staging approach intensifies the miserable state of Laura and Amanda’s life, further explains why Tom’s father disappeared, and justifies Tom’s exit.

The superb acting fills out every character dimension. Barbra Wengerd delivers such supreme subtlety in her Laura that audiences will be moved deeply by her crippling reaction to Jim’s impending marriage. Wengerd’s pained expressions are so telling and her subtle gestures so perfect that the actress opens up Laura’s fragility and fears movingly.

Catalina Maynard’s complex Amanda shades this woman’s various facets and disillusioned mind. Her faded Southern Belle adds just the right hint of a Southern drawl and she’s so hatefully opinionated and biased that we are disgusted by Amanda. Noel Joseph Allain’s frustrated Tom is a man who will never attain his dream while Amanda controls him. His touching sensitivity toward Laura still lets us see that Tom is incapable of helping her. Brian Ibsen’s confident swagger as Jim helps Laura see her uniqueness but then dooms her with his disclosure.

ATC’s masterful “A Glass Menagerie” continues through April 11. For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or go online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: A