The Glass Menagerie is set in the small apartment of the fatherless Wingfield family, comprised of Amanda and her two children, Tom and Laura. Tom spends his days working a job at a shoe factory, scribbling stories and poems whenever he finds time, whilst his mother spends her days peddling magazine subscriptions over the phone to who one can assume are sickly old women. Laura is an anxious young woman with no occupation to speak of. Needless to say, none of the characters are particularly happy; each of them dealing with the disappointments life has dealt them with little understanding of each other’s afflictions.
Tom is clearly depressed, unhappy and unmotivated at work and spending hours away from the house at night, claiming all the while to be at the movies. His lack of motivation and mysterious disappearances only feed his mother’s anxiety and compulsion brought on by the abrupt abandonment by her husband years prior. Fisher Neal did well playing Tom. He expresses Tom’s frustrations with his mother in a very real way yet making a comic connection with the audience – I caught myself thinking several times, “I know exactly how you feel buddy.”
Amanda is constantly reminiscing about the gentlemen callers of her youth, keeping a tally of all she gave up to marry the “telephone man that fell in love with long distance.” The recollections of her youth provide the audience with a good laugh, though always with an undertone of regret. This has caused her to obsess over her children, insisting Tom quit wasting his time writing and make something of himself through business. She continuously worries her daughter will remain unwed and unemployed due to her ailments. Lynne Wintersteller brings a lot of color and charm to this character and is simply entertaining. Her character draws several laughs from her long winded rants and stories, but I found it exhausting that she could not speak a little more conversationally. There were times were the lung-emptying monologues fit, but I found myself wishing she would throw in punctuation here and there.
Laura was a sickly child, suffering from illness and a birth defect in her leg, and could serve as a case study for acute anxiety. After dropping out of school because “it gave her indigestion” she spends most of her time wandering the city and tending to her collection of small glass animals. If this were set in 2014, Laura’s symptoms might be recognized as an actual illness rather than her just being “shy” or “unstable”. This being said, I personally felt that the anxiety was over amplified by Cathryn Wake. Rather than the mousy character with sudden panic attacks, as I imagine Laura being, she came off much more like a kicked dog. A majority of her dialogue came out as though she was going to vomit, or she was in excruciating pain. I did some research and found that if pleurisy (a respiratory condition Laura suffered in high school) is caused by a bacterial infection, it is possible permanent damage could be caused. This is either an ode to the homework done by actor/director or a happy accident in their favor.
The plot comes to a point when Tom, after much encouragement from his mother, brings a coworker home for dinner to meet Laura. Jim O’Connor is a good ol’ boy trying to set himself up as a business executive and is played by Jordan Whalen. Whalen is very animated and does O’Connor’s character justice while bringing an unadulterated positive attitude lacked by the rest of the household.
Overall I found this production delightful. It tiptoed the line of comedy and tragedy, keeping me engaged throughout. The set and costumes were well done and from my knowledge were fitting, and I enjoyed the use of the small space. It is a story with a lot to say that is still relevant to the times. All of the actors had wonderful chemistry on stage, there interactions coming off as truly genuine and making the family that much more relatable.
The Glass Menagerie runs through November 2 and tickets can be purchased here.
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Public Theater for two complimentary press tickets.
Performance Date: October 9, 2014