“The Glass Menagerie” – Herberger Theater Center

Theater Review – February 19, 2023


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

“The Glass Menagerie” was Tennessee Williams first and perhaps the best play of his distinguished contributions to the American theater canon.  The 1945 masterpiece about the dysfunctional Wingfield family of St. Louis circa 1930, is a triumphant memory play with richly defined and strongly developed characters plus an emotionally compelling story. Arizona Theatre Company’s stunningly moving production brings back this amazing classic with remarkable panache.

We meet the insular three-person family who are each delusional about themselves as they live with past memories that fuel their currently debauched lives.  No one takes responsibility for their individual predicaments. Family matriarch and former Southern Belle Amanda lives in a shadowy world where everything she remembers is either perfect or can be justified.  Son Tom, the most realistic family member and the play’s narrator, uses his detested warehouse job to sustain the family.  But Tom wants to escape into a make-believe world patterned after his long absent father.  Daughter Laura has allowed a minor impediment to destroy her ability to function.  Glass animals sustain her.  The final character is the brief appearance of Laura’s Gentleman Caller, Jim, a fellow worker of Tom, who, in reawakening Laura’s hope, reveals a dire encumbrance.

Once a staple of theater companies, the play is rarely seen today but it remains a compelling piece in ATC’s Associate Artistic Director Chanel Bragg’s gripping staging that captures the play’s every emotional nuance. Comments were heard at the intermission that the production was too humorous.  While true, this approach intensifies the second act’s emotionally stark contrast to reality and sets up the play’s gripping conclusion.

A vibrant cast wraps up every aspect of these multi-dimensional characters including their quirky inconsistencies and their failures to deal with reality.

Lillie Richardson’s strong, purposely dominant, and bizarrely erratic Amanda strives to control everything for her intended satisfaction.  Unbelievable is Michelle Chin’s heartbreaking Laura.  Chin has played a superb collection of diverse characters around the Valley but as Laura, Chin’s complexity is incredible as a shy girl who begins to blossom until her Gentleman Caller sabotages her emerging confidence.

Aaron Cammack’s Tom starts as both a protective brother to Laura and as a hateful son of Amanda.  Ultimately even his hopes for Laura can’t keep him from disappearing like his father.  Paul Deo Jr. is a bigger-than-life Gentleman Caller who escapes when he realizes his impact on Laura.

The rundown set and period costumes plus the ethereal background music add perfection to the production.

The fine performances, the brilliant staging, and the visual cues make the wait for this remarkable production worthwhile. This masterful “The Glass Menagerie” continues through March 5 at the Herberger Theater Center.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 833-ATC-SEAT.

Grade: A