Tom and Laura live in a small apartment with their mother, Amanda. Their father took off years earlier, leaving Tom to provide for them via a banal job at a local warehouse. Laura is a timid creature, plagued by a gammy leg and uninterested in anything except her collection of glass animals and playing old records on the gramophone. She has recently dropped out of business school, unable to meet the pressures of such educational pursuits, and her mother has decided that Laura’s future now rests on her acquiring a husband – something which, at the ripe old age of 23, is looking less and less likely. Tom is encouraged to provide a suitable “gentleman caller” from his colleagues at the warehouse and thus invites Jim around for dinner.
The Glass Menagerie is a well known and much loved play for good reason. The writing is superb, with eloquent observations of the world, clear and engaging characters and witty one-liners scattered throughout. It is also the sort of play that appeals to a wide audience – a traditional piece from a time romanticised in the minds of both young and old, but full of bitterness and oppression, free from crudeness but with enough guts in it to still connect with a modern audience.
The production side of the show is top notch. This is the sort of set that Victoria Lamb excells at. It is functional and realistic but with a touch of the ethereal. Its semi-translucency and entrance via fly-rail compliment the in-text description of this being a “memory play”. Mark Pennington’s lighting, in soft hues, adds to the atmosphere, with the glass menagerie of the title being the only thing that is brightly lit. This makes it appear separated from the rest of the world – something magical and pure.
Cook has created a well paced show and elicited beautifully nuanced performances from his four actors. Anthony Gooley portrays Tom with a nice blend of downtrodden dignity and dreamy ambition. His rage simmers just below the surface as his mother (well cast in Deirdre Rubenstein) manipulates him in that very old-fashioned, passive aggressive, Southern American manner. He allows small, well-measured amounts to escape at key moments. As the shy, unambitious and hapless Laura, Kate Cheel embodies the fragility of her glass animals.
The appearance of Jim (Nic English) in the second act, adds to the complicated dynamic created by the other characters throughout the first. Jim is a fine balance of good natured affableness, arrogance and stupidity. While he displays great insight into some things, this is coupled with a dreadful lack of awareness as to the reasons behind his invitation to dinner and the impact his behaviour is going to have. English does well in portraying this and creates a character that is both likeable and infuriating.
At the heart of the play is the struggle between doing what is right for yourself and what is expected of you by others. The writing cleverly makes the audience sympathetic to the plight of both Tom, who feels compelled to stay in a job and life he hates, and Laura, who is part of the reason Tom is in this position but whose own shortcomings are no doubt to a large degree the result of the environment in which she has grown up. Even the self-centred and controlling Amanda can be seen to have motives based in practical considerations and a desire to see her children, and herself, provided for. There are no great villains in this play, save for existence itself; a foe we all come up against at times.
It appears that Adam Cook has saved some of his best until last. This is an all-round top level production and a wonderful night at the theatre.
Kryztoff rating: 4.5K