Directed by Hans Fleischmann
Starring Hans Fleischmann, Maggie Cain, Joanne Dubach & Walter Briggs
Produced by Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.
Playing at Theater Wit
It’s how men become legends…
Following a much acclaimed run at Angel Island this winter, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co. has remounted director Hans Fleischmann’s revelatory production of The Glass Menagerie at Theater Wit. Many a staging of Williams’s first major success have come before it, and many will surely follow in its wake. And though precious few will manage to capture something of Williams’s own historical likeness or that of his family’s in their portrayal of the Wingfields, even fewer will so admirably succeed as this one in restoring to us the mythos of the man who wrote it—not the consummately proud young playwright on the verge of artistic greatness, but the scrounging, insecure and guilt-infested drifter who would rot himself into an eager grave.
The Glass Menagerie debuted here in Chicago in 1944 before finally making it out to New York. And like many of Williams’s plays, it’s story is a thinly-veiled act of self-dramatization, told in memory. Narrator Tom Wingfield (Hans Fleischmann), Williams’s own surrogate, recounts living at home alone with his mother, Amanda (Maggie Cain), and his sister, Laura (Joanne Dubach). An idle dreamer and a poet, Tom spends his days working at a shoe factory and his nights ditching out to the movies or to the local bar where he can plot his escape. Amanda, the last of a dying breed of Southern belles, has been abandoned by her husband and finds that in the midst of the Depression her former charms can but barely pay the rent. Laura, inwardly-drawn and with a pronounced limp, has dropped out of business college due to an incapacitating shyness, and on the whole is unenthusiastic about her mother’s hopes to marry her off to a nice gentleman caller.
But Fleischmann’s Tom is a far cry from the cocky, burgeoning writer Williams himself would become. Rather, he’s homeless and living in a gritty back alley meticulously covered in glass bottles and knickknacks, harkening back to sister Laura’s own collection of glass animal figurines. And it’s amongst the dilapidated ruins of Tom’s life and sanity that the memories of his family come back to haunt him, always withholding the necessary act of forgiveness for his having abandoned them. And in real life, in fact, Williams was equally prone to go it the hard way. Deeply suspicious of the luxuries of commercial success, he knew better than anyone that the imaginative life that sustained him was also the one that ultimately alienated him from the world. Loneliness, vagrancy and guilt were central to Williams own life, and Fleischmann is right to insist on their centrality in Glass Menagerie.
And Fleischmann’s deeply affecting performance is itself unforgiving, refusing Tom any moral authority or self-conceitedness. Speaking to the audience in hushed and familiar tones, his wild eyes scanning the darkness, his Tom is a man without hope and thus at last able to speak freely. And Joanne Dubach as fragile Laura is equally riveting, always seeming to teeter just on the verge of near total collapse. Especially memorable is her exchange with Jim (Walter Briggs), the so-called ‘gentleman caller’ Tom invited over to dinner one night from the shoe factory. Briggs himself gives an effusively earnest performance, both charming and likable.
Featuring the breathless scenic design of Grant Sabin and a hauntingly melodic original score by Daniel Knox, this dreamy and atmospheric production shouldn’t be missed. And even if it isn’t strictly true to the letter of Williams’s own life, it is exceptionally true to the spirit of it.
Reviewed by Anthony J. Mangini
Reviewed Wednesday, May 29th, 2013.
The Glass Menagerie runs until June 30th, 2013. Theater Wit is located at 1229 W. Belmont Ave. For tickets call (773) 975-8150 or visit www.theaterwit.org. Check out their Theater in Chicago listing at https://www.theatreinchicago.com/the-glass-menagerie/6015/.