PROVO — I read the basic synopsis before going to see The Glass Menagerie: a fatherless family living in 1937’s St. Louis. I was expecting to see something about the effects of the Great Depression on city folk. Something like The Grapes of Wrath meets The Jungle. I was surprised, then, when the play didn’t make a grand social or political statement but instead spoke of the immense capacity for love and hurt that can be experienced within a family.
For me, the play began even before the characters stepped on stage. Provo Theater, which seats an intimate 125 audience members, provided a perfect venue for the set (Nat Reed), lighting (Josh Gubler), and music (Amy Cloud) to draw the audience into the faded home of the Wingfield family. My attention was already captured by the crazy-angles of the wooden framed living room, the room’s sparse furnishings, the distant boogie woogie music playing intangibly, and the prominently lit table decorated with tiny glass ornaments.
The lights dimmed, and Tom walked in behind the audience, lit a cigarette (no cigarettes are actually lit), and introduced us into a “memory play.” In playwright Tennessee Williams’ beautiful prose, Tom introduced the remembered renditions of his sister Laura, his mother Amanda, a gentleman caller, and his father who, despite being present only as a portrait hanging on the wall, played a vital role in the family’s dynamics.
While all of the acting was good, I was most impressed by Karen Baird’s dynamic portrayal of Amanda. Her energy was boundless through monologues in which Amanda clung to her past as a Southern belle courted by numerous plantation-owning beaus. Having been abandoned by her husband, Amanda seamlessly transitioned between humorous reminiscences to desperate efforts to save her children from a similar state of destitution.
Reese Phillip Purser did a great job portraying Tom’s relationships with Amanda and Laura. He fairly radiated the frustration of a man doing his best to provide for his family but never being able to live up to his mother’s expectations. His relationship with Laura was just as compelling, as he gently tried to cheer and protect his sister.
I’ll admit that I was a bit of a skeptic at first about the roles of Laura and the Gentleman Caller, but by the end they’d both won me over. As the debilitatingly shy Laura, Stephanie Breinholt Foster’s awkwardness felt a bit put-on. It wasn’t until later in the play, particularly as she interacted with the Gentleman Caller, that I was able forget she was acting and really be drawn in. In the end, though, I was completely pulled into her solitary world of escape in her music and glass ornaments.
I had similar feelings about Daryl Ball as the Gentleman Caller. At first he seemed to recite his lines to the audience more than to interact with the other characters. But again, by the end he’d made me believer as he captured the good-hearted enthusiasm and ambivalence of the Gentleman Caller.
Throughout the play, the actors interacted with the set in a way that provided insight into the symbolism behind the action. I was particularly impressed by the way the lighting moved the audience’s attention between inanimate objects and characters to give deeper meaning to the script. This was particularly true of the way the lighting pulled the departed Windfield father into the story. Every part of the characters’ surroundings, including their costumes (Landen Gates), told a part of the story.
Mortal Fools Theatre Project portrayed The Glass Menagerie in a way that was both entertaining and thought provoking. The play gave me a lot to digest – it actually motivated me to go home and read the script so I could analyze and reanalyze every point Tennessee Williams was trying to make. Even reading the script, though, I think I will always envision the characters and set as those so enchantingly portrayed by Mortal Fools. After a few enjoyable hours, I left the theater still thinking about the characters’ motivations and feelings and trying to apply the play’s meaning to the real world. Which, with a play like The Glass Menagerie, I think is the whole point.
The Glass Menagerie plays through March 27th (M/Th/F/Sa) at 7:30 PM. Performances take place in the Provo Theatre located at the corner of 100 East and 100 North in Provo. Tickets are $10-12 with a 2-for-1 promotion on Mondays when paying with cash at the door. If you’d like to reserve your tickets in advance please visit MortalFools.org.
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