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Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Glass Menagrie as performed by the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN

The Glass MenagerieThe Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a review of the performance by the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN.

Just about every year, the Festival does a non-Shakespeare performance in addition to its two Shakespeare plays. This year the selection was a classic of American theater, The Glass Menagerie. It tells the story of the Wingfields, who were displaced from Mississippi to St Louis. Tom is a writer who works in a warehouse, but dreams of more. His mom, Amanda, can be very domineering. She wistfully remembers the Old South she grew up in. Tom's sister, Laura, has a walking impediment. She likes to take care of her glass menagerie. Laura is also painfully shy. Her mother is trying to find a gentleman caller for her, so that Laura has someone to take care of her. The gentleman caller turns out to be Jim, an old high school classmate of Laura's. I won't say any more because of spoilers.

The atmosphere is very melancholy. The set design made the family feel cramped. There was no way out. The father had left 16 years before. His picture, like his legacy, hangs large over the stage. It reminded me of Big Brother from George Orwell's 1984. The dinner scenes used pantomime to mimic eating, reminiscent of Our Town. The play is set in the 1930s, during the height (or is it the depths?) of the Great Depression, when America was at its lowest, and things were stirring up all over the world. Given that this premiered in 1944, during World War II, audiences back then would have remembered it all too well.

The cast was great. Stephanie Lambourn was excellent as Laura. She portrayed the shyness of Laura with incredible depth, making her seem just as fragile as the menagerie she loves so much. She is just as breakable as they are. John Maltese is great as Tom, who narrates the story as a flashback. He is even nicknamed "Shakespeare" at work, which makes this even more appropriate for the Festival. He is at odds with his mother, but he still loves her. Andrew Carlson is great as Jim, the gentleman caller who brings Laura out of her shell. He strikes the right balance between the super outgoing guy and the gentle soul that can draw out Laura. The biggest role was Leslie Brott as Amanda. Her performance is not totally domineering, but rather a woman who wants what she had, and wants everyone else to help her in that. She brings a certain level of humor, to avoid having this play be too depressing. Some of the banter between Tom and Amanda reminds me of Howard and his mother on The Big Bang Theory.

The one negative I found in this production was too much silence. I realize silence is important to set the mood, but I felt there should have been something to fill in. It made the play drag on too long.

All in all, an excellent performance. Someone commented that there was a sense of hope at the end of the play. I don't know if that's totally true. The characters in the play didn't know it, but World War II was coming soon. *Spoiler Alert* Tom would either have enlisted or been drafted if he had not gone into the merchant marine. Amanda and Laura would still be in that apartment together, waiting for something that might never happen. The only sense of hope is that Tom is narrating this, which means he did not die in the war. We may never know.

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