Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The Glass Menagerie
Williams' play centers on the dynamics of a family that includes a domineering mother, the faded Southern belle Amanda Wingfield, who only wants the best for her two children, and is set in the apartment they share in St. Louis in the 1930s, sixteen years after her husband abandoned her and their children. Tom Wingfield is Amanda's dreamer son who carries a notebook around with him at all times for writing poetry and finds relief from his claustrophobic life by escaping nightly, as he claims, into the world of the movies, but he usually also finds escape by drinking. Tom's sister is the nervous and sensitive Laura, who finds escape of her own through her devotion to her menagerie of glass animal figurines. The play focuses on a period of a few days including the night when a gentleman caller comes to visit the Wingfield house.
While The Glass Menagerie may not be as well crafted as Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire or as shocking as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Suddenly Last Summer, it beautifully looks back at the tragic moments of the past and shows how someone's recollections of regret can haunt them for their entire life. Williams' dialogue is beautiful and his characters are compassionate, realistic, and fleshed out.
Chanel Bragg's direction is wonderful, with a cast that deliver well thought out, nuanced, and truthful portrayals. Lillie Richardson is superb as the overbearing, suffocating, talkative, and pestering Amanda. Richardson's powerful portrayal clearly defines how Amanda's desperation and controlling nature are what drives Tom away and forces both of her children to hide things from her and why, most likely, Amanda's husband abandoned her as well. But, even though Richardson lets us see that Amanda is insufferable and constantly smothering, we also understand that she's only doing what she feels is right for her children's and her own future, so they don't make a similar bad choice like she did.
As Tom, Aaron Cammack does a phenomenal job showing us a man who is caught between his moral responsibility of being the breadwinner for his family and his desire to escape, just like his father did. Cammack instills in his performance an inherit sense of judgement mixed with anger, compassion, restlessness, torment and confliction. Cammack beautifully holds his own in the many confrontations Tom has with Richardson's powerful Amanda, yet we also see the two share moments of levity and love. The pain, suffering and confusion that Tom feels from the decisions and actions he makes are always clearly apparent from Cammack's expert facial expressions and in his well thought out line deliveries.
With down turned eyes and a measured line delivery, Michelle Chin is luminous in her performance of Laura, a young woman so fragile, you're afraid she'll break as easily as one of her beloved glass figurines. Chin has appeared in dozens of shows in town and is always exceptional. Here she soars as this damaged, self-conscious, and delicate young woman. Paul Deo Jr. brings a larger-than-life persona to Jim, the gentleman caller, an energetic and outgoing young man who tries in a polite way to bring Laura out of her shell. The scene he and Chin share is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Josafath Reynoso's scenic design is beautiful, with period furniture and translucent walls that allow us to see the outside stairs behind the apartment, giving importance to the scenes that play out on the fire escape landing. There is also a large neon sign overhead that spells out "Paradise" to depict the name of the dance hall that's just across the alley from the apartment and also to continually remind us of what is just out of reach for all of the members of the Wingfield family. In Tom's opening narration he speaks of how he wants the play to be "dimly lit" and the lighting design by Masha Tsimring uses shadow and light to mirror this description beautifully. The costumes by Kish Finnegan are period and character appropriate, including an almost garish dress for Amanda when Jim comes to their home for dinner. Local artist Cassie Chilton provides a lovely original music composition that highlights and underscores important moments in the show and the scene changes.
The Glass Menagerie is a fairly simple play, but it's also an enthralling and moving drama that draws you in as it delves into family dynamics and the regrets one has when faced with tough decisions. Arizona Theatre Company's production is superb and passionate, with a cast who create captivating characters and direction that delivers a heightened sense of melancholy.
The Glass Menagerie runs through March 5, 2023, at Arizona Theatre Company, Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix PA. For tickets and information, please visit www.arizonatheatre.org or call 602-256-6995.
Director Chanel Bragg
Cast: (In alphabetical order)
*Member, Actors Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States