- Chief Toronto Theatre Critic
From personal experience as a non-Equity participant, the opportunity to stage a classic like The Glass Menagerie in front of a live audience is thrilling. Why? For one, the beautiful poetic imagery of the text and subtext contrasted with the emotional and dramatic intensity of the downward spiral of the Wingfield family’s chaotic descent is high caliber work actors crave to perform.
I’ve also discovered the play brings some hesitation and questioning on my part whether rehearsals have done due diligence to the script in the manner the playwright intended. Any actor (whether Equity or non-Equity) is cognizant that he/she wants to maintain integrity to Williams’ words.
For the most part, Theatre on the Ridge’s opening night production (directed with respectful care and compassion by Michael Serres and Annette Stokes) presents a realistic and dysfunctional family unit on the edge of a catastrophic plunge from which no one will emerge unscathed. The play opens in a small apartment in St. Louis, Missouri, where protagonist and central narrator Tom Wingfield (Liam Lynch) lives with his mother, Amanda (Annette Stokes) and older, sickly sister, Laura (Lexi MacRae). By the end of Act One, all three have placed their hopes and wishes on the arrival of a Gentleman Caller, Jim (Michael Williamson) who, in Act Two, forever alters this family unit and their dynamics.
In his opening monologue, Tom tells us the play is memory. Melanie Baker and Carey Nicholson’s set design appropriately reflects this vision of a small, musty, dingy, and dark place for three people. The playing area is divided into three spaces downstage with dated furniture indicating the family is stuck in the past. Hideous wall paper in dire need of repair covers the walls. Stage right is a dining room table covered with a floral-patterned table cloth. Centre stage is a bright coloured couch with throw pillows. Stage left is the entrance way to the apartment with a door leading to ‘the terrace’ or the fire escape.
Upstage centred on the wall is the portrait of the father, a constant and daily reminder to the family of his absence. I understand how a repertory summer theatre festival must work within the parameters of a specific set, but I would have liked to have seen a mantle underneath the portrait. Upstage left is Laura’s ‘glass menagerie’ as Amanda calls the collection. From my seat in the house, I didn’t have a clear view of the collection when I sat down and it took me a few minutes to find it.
Michael Serres’ sound design was pleasing to the ear. The pre-show, dance hall music both welcomed and beckoned me to the bygone era of the dirty and hungry thirties. The distant chiming of the church bells in the second act was a nice touch.
Carey and Sheila Nicholson’s costume coordination nicely evoked the late 1930s era, but a couple of minor discrepancies. Mr. Lynch’s undershirt appeared just a tad too modern looking for me. It also appeared to me that Mr. Williamson’s suit in the second act didn’t fit him well. He also mis-wore his fedora improperly which made him look just a tad awkward in his initial entrance.
Specific moments and objects can and do create memories within my mind. The challenge – can they be staged for visual effect? Open flames can and do pose security and safety issues during a live performance, but flickering candles would have ethereally underscored even more the heart-rending, open and poignant conversation between Laura and Jim. Conversation either over a having a smoke or sharing a meal would also spark memories. It is obvious Mr. Lynch is not a smoker in the way he held his cigarette. In the 21st century, the scene would not have been ruined if he didn’t smoke. I also question during the dinner scene why there was no real water and the actors had to mime drinking it. A fear of spilling water on costumes or the table? Trust the actors that it won’t happen.
For The Glass Menagerie to soar high above the rafters of the Town Hall, the four-member cast must deliver credible and authentic performances. Once again, for the most part, they do a solid, credible job. Their use of accents were hit and miss, and that’s something to which they might pay attention as performances continue. Liam Lynch resembled a young Jimmy Stewart. His confident and sustained delivery as the anguished Tom made me pay close attention to him and to feel his heavy burden of how much he wanted to share so much with his mother but can’t. Annette Stokes appears to be having the time of her life in playing the sometimes disarming, sometimes charming Southern belle, Amanda. My heart went out so many times during Ms. Stokes performance as she creates a vulnerable woman who truly loves her children and wants them to be successful but sadly realizing that she too is just like her children, broken and shattered.
Lexi MacRae sensitively shows an emotionally unstable Laura who longs to escape into the world of her glass figurines while playing her father’s phonograph records whenever her mother and brother are at odds with each other. I stopped writing notes when I knew the kiss would be forthcoming in the conversation between Laura and Jim. The smile and the light emanating from Ms. MacRae’s eyes and face where, for a few seconds, she was truly happy for the first time in her life was magical to watch. Michael Williamson’s Gentleman Caller Jim appears somewhat restrained and reserved on his entrance but that makes sense as Jim has had a few knocks of his own in life. Mr. Williamson holds his own in performance level as he begins to relax in his conversation with Laura since he believes it is his mission to help her. When Jim’s true intentions are revealed at the end of the second act, Mr. Williamson’s plausible reaction to the shame of getting caught in a moment of indiscretion was nice work.
The Glass Menagerie continues at Town Hall 1873, 302 Queen Street, Port Perry, Ontario. Tickets are available at the door before each performance, telephone (905) 985-8181 or visit www.townhall1873.ca to purchase online. Performance dates are August 3, 4, 15 and 17 at 7:30 pm with 2:00 pm matinees August 11 and 12. For further information about the company, visit www.theatreontheridge.ca.
Photo of Liam Lynch and Annette Stokes provided by Hark Nijjar Photography (www.harknijjar.com)
Running time is two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission.
Directed by Michael Serres with co-direction by Annette Stokes.