The Glass Menagerie at the Majestic Theater: A Classic

The Glass Menagerie Brings Sad People Together for a While

Robbie Simpson in the Glass Menagerie.
Robbie Simpson in the Glass Menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie is an iconic work, one that many of us are familiar with.  I can’t recall when I first read it or saw it last, but when Amanda Wingfield made the painful discovery about her daughter Laura’s attendance record at the business college, I knew just what she was about to report.

The plot is indeed a familiar one, that Tennessee Williams based on his own dysfunctional family dynamic, and it’s a memory play…but most of the memories are sad ones.

Director Rand Foerster’s production of the 1944 play at the Majestic Theater is powered by the emotions of the script, the actors wring every bit of poignancy that they can and are only limited by some of the dated cultural aspects of the play.   Gentleman callers?   Going out to Movie Theaters?  What year is this?

But the personal tribulations and the tension between the characters are the glue that holds this production together. We have a cast full of people with issues…starting with Amanda, (Cate Damon) who married a complete cad whose grinning visage is seen on a portrait that stares out at us on stage.

She regrets that and thus, is determined to get her disabled daughter Laura married off to someone better.   Damon plays the main character with a spot-on Carolina accent and rapid-fire delivery, she’s about to get very annoying you can tell.

Tom, (Robbie Simpson) whose character is also the narrator from up high who opens the show, is the brother of Laura, (Abigail Milnor-Sweetser) who keeps leaving the house to go to the movies.  He isn’t afraid to push back on his busybody mom, he’s only making $64 a week at a factory job.

His meddlesome mom always has something to say, either about his posture, the hazards of chugging his drinks, or any number of folksy, annoying nostrums, that just keep coming. Enough, enough ma!

Amanda fills the air with her endless talk, she’s a non-stop chatterbox and she gets much worse the minute there is company in the house.

That company comes in the second act when mom’s goal of finding a suitable suitor for her very unsuitable daughter gets down to business. Laura spends her time playing with little glass animals in her menagerie and putting records on the phonograph. Oh, and not going to that business college we mentioned earlier. She’s honestly not much of a catch.

Abigail Milnor-Sweetser and Robbie Simpson in The Glass Menagerie.
Abigail Milnor-Sweetser and Robbie Simpson in The Glass Menagerie.

Mom Amanda works hard to badger her son Tom into setting up a colleague at the factory to come over for dinner. Then he becomes the fantasy Man Who Came to Dinner, regardless of what was really going on.

As the clock winds down to the dinner hour, we see Amanda stylin’ in an impressive new gown. ‘Oh this?, she says coyly, ‘I haven’t worn this old rag since….ages!’  With the flowers in her hands, she clearly is outdoing and putting the spotlight directly on her, instead of shy Laura, the cripple who really needs a hand here. Oh no.

The set of The Glass Menagerie at the Majestic Theater.
The set of The Glass Menagerie at the Majestic Theater.

Things are never as simple as they appeared in the days of gentlemen callers, right?  This play foretold what we all knew, poor Laura was not going to be swept off her feet, she was not going anywhere, and despite a few glimmers of hope and a stolen, errant kiss, we end up not moving far from where we began. It’s the nature of the play and mirrors the playwright’s own sad upbringing.

You can understand why one of the two movie versions of the play from 1950, starring Joanne Woodward as Amada, where the plot was changed to present a more implied happy ending really frosted the playwright.  That’s just not what happened.

The last character we meet, Jim (Tosh Foerster) the gentleman caller, is a sunny breath of fresh air. He’s exuberant, attractive, well-dressed, and is really going places. Heck, he studies public speaking and is going to night school.

This young actor is a fresh talent, like the character he plays, he says his lines with conviction and we root for him for just a few little while before we remember that a guy like this isn’t just sitting on the fence single.  He’s already engaged to Betty, breaking Laura’s poor heart. Jim might remember her from high school but he’s only there for dinner, not to woo her.

Tom also gets in some fabulous lines while trying to fend off his mother’s bossiness. Laura (Abigail Milnor-Sweetser) conveys the heartbreak of being handicapped and the torture of a failed little life with poignancy, which is made worse when we see the little flicker of her hope dashed by reality.

Once again the talented set builders led by Josiah Durham gave us a set that really worked. High up in the left corner, with just enough light to show us what she was doing, was the violinist Ann-Marie Messbauer, who kept the pace and punctuated the dialogue with her music. Up on the right was a stairway leading to an outdoor fire escape, complete with authentic brick siding, and furniture that all screamed 1944.

This production is both emotional and funny. A classic brought back from the ages, well done all around.

The Glass Menagerie, Majestic Theater, February 23 through April 2.   Directed by Rand Foerster, 131 Elm St., West Springfield MA 413-747-7797