Saturday, October 23, 1999

THEATER REVIEW


'Glass Menagerie' off to strong start

BY OWEN FINDSEN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The tiny apartment seems suspended in time and space, floating in a memory. In it, three people cope with depression, both their own and the Great Depression of the 1930s that fills the darkness outside of the apartment.

        This is The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams' autobiographical story of his dysfunctional family: his overbearing mother, missing father and emotionally troubled sister. It is one of the greatest plays of the past century, and the production at the Playhouse in the Park does it justice.

        Father left home long ago, leaving his son Tom and daughter Laura with Amanda, their mother, a faded Southern belle displaced in this tenement apartment in St. Louis in the late '30s.

        Three people struggle to find personal, private space in the apartment. Tom seeks escape in writing poetry and going to the movies. Laura, too shy and emotionally troubled to try to find work, sits in the corner and plays with her sad collection of little glass animals. Amanda, though, needs all the room she can get for her own fantasy, her real or imagined memories of her youth in the genteel South, when she entertained as many as 17 gentleman callers at once.

        Amanda talks constantly and criticizes constantly, unable to understand that her incessant preaching and tedious cliches are the cause of her children's frustration. Her failure, she believes, was to marry the wrong gentleman caller. The family's salvation, she believes, will be a gentleman caller who will come and marry Laura.

        Tom (Joey Collins) narrates the story from the fire escape and from the future, looking back on a depressed family unaware of the collapse that awaits them. This depressed world, of course, will explode into World War II.

        Mr. Collins resembles a young Tennessee Williams and gives a tense, convincing portrayal of a frustrated young man who sees no escape from tedious, soulless poverty.

        Roberta Maxwell avoids making Amanda the stereotype of the cloying Southern belle, often overdone in this play, to present a more universal image of a caring but confused mother who does everything wrong in trying to do what's right for the children.

        Anney Giobbe takes the character of Laura beyond the shy, sister with the limp that Tennessee Williams' wrote of, to the author's real sister, deeply emotionally troubled. Her tense, trembling preformance makes her appear as fragile and ready to break as the glass animals in the menagerie.

        Jim, the gentleman caller (Sean Dougherty), is the only character in the play who is supposedly in touch with reality, but it is a superficial reality that offers no alternative to fantasy. Mr. Dougherty and Ms. Giobbe's meeting near the end is an emotionally powerful interplay.

        Even the set contributes to the idea of precipitous disaster at any moment. The floor hangs over a dark, deep void, suggesting that the apartment hovers on the brink of disaster.

        The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, Playhouse in the Park Robert S. Marx Theatre, through Nov. 19. 421-3888.

       



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