Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Josh Altman
At Redtwist Theatre, Chicago
Some plays are so brilliant, so perceptive, so poignant that they can be seen time and again — each viewing revealing another gem. This is the case with The Glass Menagerie. In this classic work, four anguished characters — successfully depicted by Redtwist Theatre’s excellent cast — are not only unrelievedly human but also amazingly archetypal.
Amanda (Jacqueline Grandt), a southern belle well past her prime, lives in the memory of her youthful triumphs — 17 Gentlemen Callers once visited her on the same day. However, in spite of all her social agility, she wed unwisely — a mate who later abandoned her.
The children she has raised alone — agonizingly shy Laura (Sarah Mayhan) and bitterly unhappy Tom (Ryan Heindl) — fail to live up to her expectations. Laura has never had a date; Tom is working a dead-end menial job. A controlling mother trying to live vicariously through her children, Amanda destroys any possibility of positive relationship — although she is obsessed with trying to achieve their happiness.
Grandt captures every nuance of Amanda’s multi-faceted character: the non-stop speech, the flirtatiousness, the tendency to overshadow the daughter she wants to push forward. It is a complex characterization where the pain of the mother continually interrupts her vivacious, unrealistic attempts to shape her little world. How sad to see her working to sell magazine subscriptions over the phone to very unwilling acquaintances. She may seem silly, sometimes shallow, yet Amanda (and her plight) pulls at our heartstrings.
Mayhan is perfect as the diffident, awkward, unhappy daughter Laura, experiencing one glimmer of romance, only to be dashed down again. A paralyzing timidity cripples housebound Laura far more than her injured leg.
Chris Daley as the brash gentleman caller strikes just the right note of a man who has failed to live up to early promise, now renewing attempts via night school and public speaking classes. His ultimate unwitting cruelty undercuts his original kindness.
Heindl as would-be poet Tom — narrating memories of his narrow, stultifying life — is the voice of playwright Tennessee Williams. This semi-autobiographical play illustrates that love is not enough to hold a family together, and that running away does not eliminate the ensuing pangs of guilt.
Screenwriter Norah Ephron once told her writing daughters (Nora, Delia, Haley and Amy), “Everything is Copy” — meaning that life experiences can (and should) be turned into art. That is certainly what Williams has done here — capturing and distilling his own pain to create a memorable play with vivid characters. If you have never seen The Glass Menagerie, you have missed a rare treat. And, of course, for those of you “in the know” — here is another opportunity to experience a great drama, a truly haunting experience — and it couldn’t be handled any better than with this fine production at Red Twist Theatre.
Beverly Friend, Ph.D.
Redtwist Theatre, 1044 w. Bryn Mawr (773) 728-7529, www.redtwist.org tickets $25-30. 7:390 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through Sept 2. Running time two hours and fifteen minutes (including intermission).