THE GLASS MENAGERIE
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Natalie King
Stage Manager – Liz Stevens
Assistant Stage Manager – Brianna Ballow
Costume Design – Ryan Matthieu Smith
Lighting Design – Kat Fahrenthold
Props Design – Kaitlin Hatton
Projections Designer – Adam Chamberlin
Set Design -Bob Lavalee
Sound Design – Brian McDonald
Intimacy Coordinator – Ashley White
COVID-19 Safety Manager – Jordan La Grenade
Amanda Wingfield – Denise Lee
Laura Wingfield – Ana Hagedorn
Tom Wingfield – Savier Losornio
Jim O’Connor – Tommy Stuart
Reviewed Performance: 10/30/2021
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Memories sparkle, shine, and marvel us with a million colors in the light of recollection. “The Glass Menagerie,” after seventy-seven years as a produced play, has lost none of its ability to dazzle and enchant us. The memory Tennessee Williams reveals to us is bathed in the hues of nostalgia, but like the crystal animals of the title, it is fragile and apt to break under the pressures of reality. Circle Theatre has presented this masterwork of the Twentieth Century with grace and gives us the chance to experience this play with all its power and fragility displayed before us to wonder at once again.
Because the play is such a fixture of the American theatrical canon, it is easy to assume that everyone is familiar with it. I first read “The Glass Menagerie” in high school and over the years have seen various film and television adaptations. This is the first time I had the opportunity to experience a live production and was surprised at the impact it had on me despite my familiarity with the story. Imagine what that impact would be for someone encountering the work for the first time. So, I promise not to reveal too much of the story, particularly the ending, at the risk of spoiling it for someone not acquainted with the play.
Tennessee Williams carries us to an apartment across the alley from a dance club. The time is the Thirties, in the depths of the Great Depression. In this set of rooms that has seen better days (ably realized by designer Bob Lavalee), we meet the Wingfield family. Tom (Savier Losornio) is the first person to appear. He is our guide and narrator in this journey through memory and an active participant in the story that will unfold before us. His mother is Amanda Wingfield (Denise Lee), a woman determined to see that her children succeed in life, particularly Tom’s sister Laura (Ana Hagedorn).
Life is not easy for Wingfields. Their sole source of income is the small salary Tom makes at a dead-end job in a shoe warehouse and he feels trapped. Tom dreams of being a poet and spends his nights at the movies where he vicariously lives the adventures of the people on the screen. His sister Laura stays in the apartment all the time. She is pathologically shy and hides from a world that, Laura thinks, sees only her limp as she walks. Having dropped out of high school and too timid to work, she finds solace in dancing to records on an old victrola and playing with her collection of glass animals. As mother of these two children, Amanda is frustrated. Having been abandoned by her husband nine years before and longing for a past filled with leisure and ‘gentleman callers’ that is long gone, she decides that the best course of action to ensure a future for the family is to get Laura married.
Amanda asks Tom to invite someone from the warehouse to dinner so Laura can have her own gentleman caller. Tom reluctantly agrees and brings Jim O’Connor (Tommy Stuart) to the apartment. And Jim’s visit, taking place during a rainstorm, proves to be a blast of reality that changes the lives of Amanda, Tom, and Laura forever.
It is a credit to the direction of Natalie King and the talent of her cast that the play never becomes maudlin or melodramatic. Ms. King has constructed this memory play out of real emotion; the affection and care the director shows for these characters is evident. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, which go by very quickly thanks to the pace set by Ms. King, we get to see why this decades old script is still a classic worth experiencing.
Bob Lavallee’s set, as mentioned before, has the lived-in feel of a cheap apartment with the wallpaper and the furniture all having seen their better days a long time ago. Ryan Matthieu Smith’s costumes, especially for Tom, Amanda, and Laura, have the same look of years of wear. I must mention Amanda’s dress in Act II that she wears for the visit of the gentleman caller: it exemplifies her desire for the past and the futility in trying to relive it.
Lighting and music are vital to this play as they place us firmly in the realm of memory. The work of lighting designer Kat Fahrenthold and sound designer Brian McDonald is excellent. Projections on the walls, designed by Adam Chamberlain, magically enhance the dream-like feel of this play and are so much a part of the action that they feel like phantoms from long ago trying to communicate with the present.
Tom Wingfield is our guide through the night and Savier Losornio inhabits the character. Mr. Losornio makes Tom’s longing for adventure and his frustration with his present situation palpable. Tom is not an easy person to like, and Mr. Losornio shows us warts and all. The character wants us to sympathize with his situation but is not afraid to act selfishly to get what he wants. Savier Losornio presents all of that to us. He is especially effective on the connecting narrative monologues and is great fun on one of my favorite parts where Tom sarcastically confesses to Amanda that instead of the movies, he has been visiting opium dens. Mr. Losornio is not afraid to follow Tom into all the places he goes. It is a brave performance.
Also fearless is the performance of Denise Lee as Amanda. This character is sometimes played as monster mother, smothering the life out of her children. Ms. Lee, thankfully, does not take that route. All her emotions are expressed in a way we all can relate to. She honestly cares for her adult children and fears for their future. She loves them deeply and Ms. Lee’s portrayal shows that love can be dangerous. Feeling alone and scared, unsure of what will happen to the family, her Amanda seeks refuge in and solutions for the present from her past. And it blinds the character to needs of Laura and Tom. Ms. Lee takes on this monumental character and makes it her own. I have had the pleasure of seeing Denise Lee in various events throughout the years. She should be proud to make Amanda part of her legacy.
The part of Laura always tugs at my heart and Ana Hagedorn’s acting did just that. Within moments of seeing her on stage, shoulders stooped and head down, you know this character. Without saying a word, Ms. Hagedorn shows Laura’s personal isolation. The only times you see her straighten up and smile is when she is with her beloved glass animals and dancing to old records. The actress’s Laura has a sweetness and fragility that is wonderful to watch. Especially of note is her scene with the gentleman caller, Jim O’Connor. The joy and freedom she feels with her glass menagerie slowly begins to emerge while talking to this young man. Ms. Hagedorn lights up during this time and the character’s longing for happiness is all in her face to see. She is a lovely Laura.
Tommy Stuart appears to be having so much fun as Jim O’Connor. As the expected gentleman caller, Mr. Stuart enters in the apartment with all the power of a bull in a China shop. Exploding with good cheer and youthful bravado and confidence, Jim enters the lives of the family and totally changes everything. And he has no idea he is doing that. Having been important in high school, Jim has found himself stuck in a job at the shoe warehouse. But endowed with a positive sense of self and fortified by night school classes, Jim is ready to take on the future. Tommy Stuart is a wonderful Jim, bubbling over with courtesy and good advice, and his joy in the role is infectious.
I thank Circle Theatre for revisiting this play as part of their Fortieth Anniversary (“The Glass Menagerie” was part of their first season). It was a chance for me to see this classic up close and to experience the wonder and bitter-sweet joy of a live performance. And the fact that Circle Theatre is open for audiences again is cause for extra celebration. All Covid-19 safety protocols are being observed, so you can watch this great show in safety. So please go, and experience for yourself the sparkle and shine of “The Glass Menagerie.”
THE GLASS MENAGERIE
October 28 – November 20, 2021
Thursdays – 7:30 PM. Fridays – 8:00 PM. Saturdays – 3:00 PM & 8:00 PM.
230 West Fourth Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102
For tickets and information call 817-877-3040
Or visit on the Web at www.circletheatre.com