The Glass Menagerie

By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Marjorie Ballentine
The Brave New Theatre Group
Theatre Cap 21
15 West 28th Street (501-7436)
Equity showcase (closes June 25)
Review by Steve Gold

It was The Glass Menagerie that hoisted Tennessee Williams into prominence in 1945. A dreamlike, autobiographical work of deep compassion, it remains a titan of the American stage. The Brave New Theatre's classy, beautifully conceived effort made for captivating entertainment on a soothing summer night in June.

By now, the story is well-known: Amanda Wingfield (Patricia McAneny) lives with her son Tom (Charles Sprinkle) and daughter Laura (Sarah Jenkins) in shabby-genteel surroundings in Depression-era St. Louis, their father having deserted them 15 years earlier. Amanda, a declassé Southern belle, is concerned for the future of her crippled, pathologically shy daughter. She convinces Tom to coax his friend Jim O'Connor, a fellow employee at a shoe warehouse, to come to dinner in the hope that Jim will take a fancy to Laura. Such are the self-delusions of Amanda, who is otherwise a most practical woman.

Marjorie Ballentine, the director, brought forth a production of great sensitivity. But she didn't neglect the play's wry wit, which made the poignant passages all the more effective. An all-too-common trap in staging The Glass Menagerie is to turn Amanda into a histrionic, Southern-fried yenta, which is what Gertrude Lawrence did when she played the role on film, circa 1950. Rest assured, Patricia McAneny had no problem in that regard. Her Amanda was soft-spoken and lilting, as befits a daughter of the South; and she was particularly amusing in her initially girlish behavior when O'Connor shows up for dinner. But she also gave us a woman who is willing to fight tooth and nail for her offspring; a woman who is unconquerable in her refusal to be crushed by her wretched, impoverished life. In the process, this Amanda achieved a quiet heroism that mae her, in the end, oddly noble.

Laura Wingfield, alas, is not nearly as strong as her mother. She is one of those lost souls for whom modernity has no place. Sarah Jenkins's vaguely hoarse, quivering voice, as well as her overwhelming sense of defeat, made Laura an object of wrenching pathos, an achingly lonely woman whose only consolation is the collection of glass figurines she keeps by the Victrola.

Tom, the author's stand-in (as well as narrator), is a frustrated, occasionally disagreeable man whose drinking helps him escape the numbing boredom of his job at the shoe warehouse. To his credit, Williams was honest in creating a not entirely sympathetic self-portrait; and Charles Sprinkle did not try to make him out to be nicer than he is. In the end, however, Tom's saving grace is his love for his mother and sister. The guilt he feels when he leaves them to join the Merchant Marine at play's end was, thanks to Sprinkle's heartfelt work, a high point of the production.

Jim O'Connor, the gentleman caller, is a former high school golden boy who never rose beyond his current job of shipping clerk at the warehouse. He spoke with hollow confidence as a means of hiding his disappointment. But Macaluso allows just enough of it to seep through, resulting in a full-bodied, unsentimental portrait of failure.

Hui Cox supplied the attractive incidental music. The period costumes, by William F. Moser, were charming, especially the dinner dress worn by Amanda. Jason Livingston's elaborate lighting was lushly evocative. Mosher also designed the large set, which encompassed a split-level living room and the apartment's exterior: a first-rate job.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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