Theatre Review: The Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams, directed by Jef Hall-Flavin
Auckland Theatre Company
May 17, 2013
If theatre is an illusion of reality then that truism is embedded in the DNA of this respectful production.
It’s the 1930s. Depression and imminent war mean America will become a much darker place.
A foghorn sounds as the conflicted Tom Wingfield (Edwin Wright) sits in the shadows. “I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”
On an adept set by John Parker crates, sit a few pieces of furniture, a dining table, a Victrola and sofa and a small counter with tiny glass animals held safe and frozen, like the characters, under a series of small glass domes. Stacks of wooden crates, spotlighted with phrases, as Williams wanted, remind us of figures kept in storage, rendered from memory.
Amanda Wingfield, the faded Southern belle is an overbearing mother, who unforgivingly prods her children, Laura and Tom, to aspire to a life that in their circumstances is cruelly unattainable.
Amanda has fallen. Her language and expectations deny reality. She seeks consolation in her illusions of a kinder, more genteel time in the same way her frail, crippled daughter Laura finds solace engaging with her glass menagerie.
Tom, who has a menial job in a warehouse, has to abet their fantasies. His job is their only defence against destitution. He knows that one day he must end his mother and sister’s fantasy.
The production lays claim again to the potency and beauty of Williams’ language. Elizabeth Hawthorne is surely one of the few actresses in the country that could find the humanity in Amanda, a character that could easily become parody.
While Antonia Prebble as Laura still seems to be working on her limp, she has some fine scenes with Richard Knowles as the gentleman caller, Jim. The momentary connection they make has a delicate beauty that is necessary to save the play from stark bleakness.
Edwin Wright brings a thoughtful presence to Tom, a character torn by duty and love and the need for freedom from the confinement of obligation and convention. Clearly his nights are not spent at the movies.
There’s comedy amid the domestic tragedy. The arguments between nagging mother and whining son draw much needed laughter. Williams would be perfectly at home scripting a sharp sitcom. He knows how to write characters that hate themselves and in their hate reveal their frail humanity.