Onstage / THE GLASS MENAGERIE
By Tennessee Williams
Julia Course as Laura and Jonathan Tan as Jim in The Glass Menagerie
Photo by David Cooper
Through October 12
Director: László Bérczes
Starring: André Sills, Allegra Fulton, Julia Course, Jonathan Tan
The classic and autobiographical The Glass Menagerie is having an intimate and well-acted production at the Shaw Festival. As a stand-in for playwright Tennessee Williams, the play’s narrator, Tom Wingfield, recalls life with Amanda, his Southern belle mother, and Laura, his sister with disabilities that make the prospect of future independence unlikely. When Amanda pins her hopes on Jim, a gentleman caller who is a coworker of Tom’s, Jim arrives to first raise and then crush their hopes, leaving Tom to make a crucial decision about his own future.
Director László Bérczes evinces strong performances from the cast. Julia Course’s Laura may be the best role I’ve ever seen her play at the Shaw Festival, and I’ve seen a lot. (Although it’s hard to imagine that Amanda, one who maintains appearances at all costs, would let her daughter dress so dowdily.) As Tom, André Sills projects a restless intensity that not only elevates the character’s emotions but is the perfect foil to Allegra Fulton’s overbearing and fearful—but charming—Amanda. Jonathan Tan is always a delight, and while he might deprive Jim of a couple of layers, his cheery optimism works well.
Staged at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, the play is presented in the round, which Bérczes uses to full advantage. Not only does he direct to ensure that there is no bad seat in the house—something patrons always appreciate but don’t always get in this configuration—but he also uses the perimeter of the stage to indicate passage of time and a feeling of exclusion; it works beautifully.
What doesn’t work beautifully is Bérczes’ bookend decisions for the play. The first, which has André Sills, as Tom, come out to engage the audience in magic tricks and banter before the show begins, is confusing. In addition, before the play begins, Sills speaks what is essentially an added monologue—one that Williams didn’t write. Similarly, at the end of the play, Tom beseeches Laura to blow out her candles, i.e., vanquish his guilty memories of her. Instead of honoring Williams’ stage direction—which has Laura blow out the candles to end the play—Bérczes instead has Tom blow out the candles, which doesn’t even make sense: the whole point of the play is that Tom does not possess the power to dull these painful memories. These choices not only play fast and loose with the play as written but diminish the overall effect at the beginning and end of the play. Still, what’s in the middle is lovely and well worth seeing.