The Glass Menagerie: A Glass Half-Full

February 24, 2010

Tony Sterle ('11) and Rachel Stark ('11) in The Glass Menagerie (Loeb Ex Spring 2010) Photo Credit: Rebecca Miller

For many, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is more of a title than a living, breathing piece of American theater. The play is better known for its ubiquitous inclusion in high-school English syllabi than its performance history. Thus, it is our good fortune to have Megan O’Keefe’s (‘11) fine production currently running in the Loeb Ex to remind us, through the inspired integration of performance and visual art, of the play’s still-vibrant symbolism, poignancies, and humor.

The play drifts smoothly – albeit slightly blandly – through exposition, introducing us to the overbearing Amanda Wingfield (Caroline Giuliani ’11) living in a small Chicago apartment with her children Laura (Rachel Stark ’11) and Tom (David Smolinsky ’11). Centering on a mother’s search for a “gentleman caller,” along with Tom’s longing to escape his dead-end job and mundane existence, The Glass Menagerie provides countless challenging opportunities to showcase the talent of its cast.

While Stark is adorably spacey as the crippled Laura, others fall short of the demands of such challenging roles. Smolinsky and Giuliani are engaged and deliver competent, consistent performances, yet their emotional intensity often falls flat, failing to bring the play’s dramatic arc to life. Spotted with shallow readings, the audience is often left longing to see the emotional depth that the actors cannot quite bring to Williams’ characters.

Yet it is in the show’s second act, with the entrance of gentleman caller Jim (Tony Sterle ‘11/’12) where the show really hits its stride. As Jim, Sterle has a fresh, humorous, and touching vitality that revitalizes the show. The interactions between the four characters finally begin to ring true. As nervous excitement retreats to sorrow, the actors’ once-cloudy subtexts become as clear as Laura’s treasured glass animal figures.

The production is complemented by a large-scale art installation at the entrance to the space, designed by Sara Stern ’12. In it, we see large versions of the assorted glass figures – a nice touch, seeing as Laura’s trove on stage, so small and secluded in the set, needs a vehicle for tangible appreciation. Intermission brings Laura into the installation, playing with and wondering at her glass figures, uniting cast and audience in admiration of the glass. Regrettably, this interesting technique had more of an ostracizing effect, as most of the audience was unsure if the play was picking back up again.

Subtle, warm lighting by Matt Stone ’11 and a realistic set by Kevin Davies ’10 and Snoweria Zheng ’12 effectively complements the production, although the audience’s L-shaped layout creates some awkward angles for all. Tastefully sprawled across the floor is a rendition of Picasso’s Guernica, effectively underlining the simmering tension beneath the surface of the Wingfield family, while the anachronistic musical selection (ranging from Ingrid Michaelson to excerpts from the soundtrack of Amélie) beautifully complements O’Keefe’s fluid direction and concise vision.

However, the “larger-than-life-sized” portrait of the Wingfield’s long-gone father, called for in Williams’s script, is notably missing. The actors referred to a small, cloudy portrait tucked in the corner of the room when speaking of him, but the constant specter of his absence could have been greatly enhanced with a more faithful interpretation of Williams’s script.

After the play ends with the famous image of Laura extinguishing the last remaining candlelight, the audience left feeling satisfied. O’Keefe successfully brings together various media to create this accessible production of The Glass Menagerie. While you may not get shivers down your spine, this clean production combines faithful interpretation with creative innovation to create a theatrical experience worth seeing before its candles blow out.

The Glass Menagerie runs through February 27th in the Loeb Experimental Theater.

- The Harvard Art Review Theatre and Visual Arts Boards

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