‘Glass Menagerie’ examines personal disappointments

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A fresh look at Tennessee Williams’ classic “The Glass Menagerie” in an intimate setting invites the audience to pierce the shells of the characters and experience their pain, their disappointments, their illusions, and their shattered dreams.

Elizabeth Reese/The Living Room

The play, produced as the initial premiere offering from Astra Productions, displays a haunting memory of the main character, Tom Wingfield (Colin Fewell). As the narrator, Tom presents his memory of past situations that lead him toward his unfulfilled present. His examination of a past events mirrors the similarity of his father who abandoned the family. Though not a character in the play, the father’s history foreshadows Tom’s future.

“We chose ‘The Glass Menagerie’ because it is a widely popular American play where we can explore its modern relevance. Although the play takes place St. Louis in the 1930’s, it is a ‘memory play,’ and we are allowed the freedom to smudge the edges of reality,” Taylor Harlow, director, said. “Additionally, I think the story is so transcendent and beautiful that everyone can find a piece of themselves in it.”

With Harlow’s development of the play, the pain of each character screams of personal failures of the characters. Tennessee Williams plays always contain complex characters with human flaws. In this particular play, with only four characters, the flaws define their destiny.

Elizabeth Reese/The Living Room

With Tom, his dream outreaches his grasp and always will. Unhappy with his job in a shoe factory, he wants to travel and write poetry. His salary pays the rent and utilities for his family (a mother and sister). His only escape from his dreary reality–movies and booze.

The other lead character in “The Glass Menagerie,” Amanda Wingfield (Kathy Breeden) dominates the story and the stage with an overpowering presence. She dominates her children’s lives, pushes them beyond their capabilities, constantly reminds them of her popularity in her youth; but at the same time, she exposes her disgust and disappointment that she lost her dreams by marrying the wrong man.

Act I sets the tone. Act I focuses on Tom and Amanda as the unhappy provider and his dominating mother. Fewell and Breeden grab those characters and wring the emotions out of them with each line and gesture. Clearly, every word Amanda speaks grates on Tom’s soul. Nothing Tom can do will appease Amanda, nor will anything Tom does meet his mother’s approval. The love/hate relationship fuels the characterizations in “The Glass Menagerie.” As an innocent bystander to all this in-fighting, Laura, the shy, introverted daughter and sister, retracts into her world of fragile glass figurines–her glass menagerie.

Fewell and Breeden spar throughout the play, and their chemistry as mother-son adds electricity to the play. Both develop their characters and make the audience notice them. Breeden shines as the domineering Amanda, pushing her children hard to succeed. Amanda’s drive reflects her desperation for security and someone to pay the bills. Breeden presents her as ruthlessly focused on self-preservation. What a strong performance.

Elizabeth Reese/The Living Room

Fewell plays Tom as a semi-carefree person with big dreams. His nightly excursions and escape to the movies reflect his notion that his future lies beyond the shoe factory in St. Louis. His vision of success surpasses his grasp. Fewell shows Tom’s dreams and Tom’s failure to work toward them. His memory (the play) shows his guilt and disappointment in regards to his sister who haunts his memory.

To accomplish this character, Fewell must show levity, sorrow, guilt, anger, frustration, weakness, and Tom’s illusion of resolution. Fewell builds the character with a firm grasp on how to present a new characterization of Tom. Fewell takes the audience on Tom’s journey. He succeeds with honors.

Act II takes the focus off Tom and Amanda to focus on the sub-plot, a gentleman caller for Laura. The situation exposes Laura’s frailties and strengths. Bree Patterson portrays Laura whose world encompasses glass animals, old phonograph records, and little else. Patterson delivers a more modern version of the crippled Laura and allows Laura’s inner beauty and tenderness to surface.

Patterson’s scenes partner her with Josh LeBrun as Jim O’Connor (the gentleman caller). The two create a tender, intimate scene as Laura confesses her high school crush on Jim. Jim helps extract Laura from her shyness and recounts her strengths. But, while counting her strengths, inadvertently reminds Laura of her physical problem.

The work between LeBrun and Patterson gives heart and soul to the play. Laura has no goals, vision, or hope. Jim had vision and direction, but reality stepped in. Happiness eludes both. Patterson and LeBrun take the audience into the souls of the characters with a touching encounter. Their scenes show the intricacies of Tennessee Williams-style characters. Both are to be commended for their performance.

Astra Theatre Company

“The Glass Menagerie” differs from other Williams plays in that it does not contain the story-line of other works like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” or “A Streetcar Named Desire.” This play explores characters and imperfections within characters. Viewers find pieces of themselves or others they know in these characters. “The Glass Menagerie” focuses on personal dreams and the illusion of good fortune. Go see this production and judge for yourself. What a strong start for a new theatre company to the KC Metro. Good job, Astra.

The creative team for “The Glass Menagerie”: Taylor Harlow, director; Mary Williams, costume designer; Elizabeth Reese, voice/text coach; Stephanie Roberts, intimacy coach; Jamie Leonard, lighting designer; Gabriel Livingston, stage manager; Danielle Barger, production assistant.

“The Glass Menagerie” opened Sept. 27 at The Living Room Theatre and runs weekends through Oct. 5.  Tickets can be purchased through the Astra Theatre Company website.

Tags: Astra Theatre Company, “The Glass Menagerie” review, The Living Room Theatre, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

Photos: Elizabeth Reese/The Living Room

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