THE BASICS: THE GLASS MENAGERIE, the “memory play” by Tennessee Williams directed by László Bérczes is in repertory through Saturday October 12, 2019 at the Shaw Festival’s Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre behind the Festival Theatre (they share a courtyard), 10 Queen’s Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON (905-468-2172 / 1-800-511-7429) www.shawfest.com Download house program here.
Age recommendation 14+ Runtime: 2-1/2 hours with one intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: This is the heartbreaking story of a mother’s dreams for her psychologically and physically frail daughter Laura which slowly, but ever so slowly, crumble in the harsh light of reality, told with guilt and sorrow by Laura’s slightly younger brother Tom, who at the time of the play supports the family by working a soul-crushing job in a shoe warehouse. The rising action is all about the arrival of a “gentleman caller” whom the mother, a former Southern belle, Amanda, thinks could be Laura’s salvation, but, of course, he is not.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: The brilliant cast includes Shaw favorites André Sills (back from last summer at the Stratford Festival) as Tom; Julia Course as Laura who understands her situation much more clearly than anyone; Jonathan Tan as Jim, the upbeat, future oriented gentleman caller; and new to Shaw but you’d never know it she fits in so perfectly, Allegra Fulton as Amanda Wingfield, the mother who recalls her days as a Southern belle.
With accents coached by Jennifer Toohey (Amanda’s is a very broad Southern accent from Mississippi, Laura and Jim speak with a more Midwest St. Louis voice, and André Sills with a generic American voice) each character’s speaking style is an important part of their overall persona.
The current configuration of the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre is as a “black box” stadium-style theater-in-the-round so that almost everyone is looking down on the action. Whether it was last season’s THE BARONESS AND THE PIG (which also starred the brilliant Julia Course), or this season’s SEX (which includes the full GLASS cast) or VICTORY, there’s a feeling of being in “The Coliseum” watching a gladiatorial fight. These plays are not the clever English drawing room comedies for which the Shaw Festival was known for decades. THE GLASS MANAGERIE is as brutal as any confrontation between Christians and lions.
So what makes this production so good? Well, it’s so perfectly cast. Julia Course excels at characters who are damaged but don’t let that overwhelm them. Here Laura knows she has problems, for example she limps and she’s so shy that she dropped out of high school and then secretarial school. Course possesses the power to evoke empathy, not pity, and is not at all the sad creature that you may have seen in other productions. Also different from previous productions which I’ve seen, Jonathan Tan’s gentleman caller is more sensitive and much less a bull in a china shop (or a glass menagerie). True, he does manage to damage the glass unicorn, but he’s not a brute.
Allegra Fulton is not the caricature which I’ve seen elsewhere when portraying the role of Amanda. She seems much more aware of her predicament and so evokes much more emotion from the audience. And André Sills is a master at holding in a tightly coiled rage. You may remember him from the time when the Shaw Festival brought MASTER HAROLD AND THE BOYS to Shea’s 710 Theatre a few years back.
If you want to see a clear-eyed version of playwright Tennessee Williams most popular play, a version without schmaltz, then you have a month to get to Niagara on the Lake. And this is a great time to go. It’s a beautiful drive and it’s less crowded than in August, sort of like your own little lakeside resort.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!