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Tuesday, May 14, 2013
A highlight of the current Star City Playhouse production of “The Glass Menagerie” takes place before the show even begins.
It’s the brief speech that director Marlow Ferguson delivers before turning the stage over to his actors.
Ferguson doesn’t use those few moments merely to hype future shows, point out the exits and admonish patrons to squelch their cellphones.
Instead, he speaks informatively about the life of the playwright, the play itself and the strong links between the two. As a result, the audience probably enjoys the play — and understands it — more than it might have otherwise.
Other directors might do well to follow Ferguson’s example, especially when the works they are presenting are more than usually challenging intellectually.
Now, on to Star City Playhouse’s creditable performance of Tennessee Williams’ 1944 drama. It is set in the shabby St. Louis household of the dysfunctional Wingfield family — a place where memory is strong but faulty, where one man’s escape is another’s abandonment, and where fantasy may be mistaken for reality.
There is Tom, a young shoe warehouse employee and aspiring poet. He yearns to escape his domestic ties for a life of adventures like those enjoyed by the stars of his beloved movies. Tom serves as both a character and the play’s present-time narrator. He is portrayed by Christopher Reidy in the production’s standout performance.
His sister Laura (Hannah Ruth Wellons) is crippled both by an unexplained limp and by a profoundly disabling shyness. She collects the glass animal figurines that give Williams’ play its title and that, like their owner, are uncommonly fragile.
Their mother, Amanda, is a faded Southern belle who is sustained by gilded memories of her youth. She’s also obsessed with a need to connect her reclusive daughter with a marriageable “gentleman caller.” The juicy role of Amanda must tempt the ham in every actor, but Sherry Pitzer Wedemeyer’s interpretation is a successful blend of strength with restraint.
Also present — not physically but in an imposing photograph over the mantelpiece and in the memories of the remaining Wingfields — is the father and husband who vanished years earlier. As Tom rather enviously puts it, the former phone company employee “fell in love with long distance.”
In the play’s climactic scenes, Tom brings a warehouse co-worker to dinner. Amanda mistakes him for a real gentleman caller. Laura panics at first, but seems to recover and enjoys a touching interlude with the visitor (Steve Baltz).
In the blue world of “The Glass Menagerie,” however, her hopes (and her mother’s) seem certain to be dashed.
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