This is the third production of "The Glass Menagerie" that I have reviewed in the past eighteen months. So I went in thinking I knew it all - Tom, Laura, Amanda, the Gentleman Caller, blue roses and little glass unicorns. But I found myself surprised by the play at every turn in this slow and lyrical Cap and Bells production directed by Eric Powers. That is saying a lot because I am not a big Tennessee Williams fan and it takes some doing to get me excited about his work.
That is not to say that this is a perfect production. It is entirely mounted by students on a small budget and is sharing the Downstage with the musical "Little Shop of Horrors" in closely spaced repertory this weekend. The set is spare, and the students are, well, young. It was off-putting that Alessandra Stewart as Amanda looked considerably younger than Anna Weber Kneitel as her daughter Laura. Of course I saw a dress rehearsal - it may well be that Stewart wears old-age make-up in the actual performance - but I saw her fresh faced. It was easy to imagine her leading the cottilion in that dress - yesterday.
But overall Powers has listened very closely to Williams instructions about this being a memory play. Previous productions I have seen have been very realistic. Powers follows Williams instructions about using light and music to establish the sense of scenes remembered rather than scenes recreated.
Peter Van Steenburg is a fiesty Tom. While it is difficult for young actors to capture the pathos of an older, faded and disappointed woman like Amanda, it is a breeze to grasp the restlessness of Tom - the urgency of youth to pursue its dreams before it is too late because no sooner do we stop longing to be "grown-up" than we realize we are rapidly growing old and that life is not to be wasted.
Kneitel captured Laura's shyness and "otherness" well, but she completely failed the Limp Test. In fact, every Laura I have seen in the past year and a half has forgotten to limp at various times during the play. For God's sake, the girl is described as a cripple, she wore a brace on her leg not so long ago. If the actress can't maintain a limp, put some gravel in one shoe. Its not that hard!
But speaking of impediments, I found the casting of Robert McGehee as Jim O'Connor, the long awaited "Gentleman Caller" most peculiar. McGehee has a marked speech impediment, and since Kneitel keeps forgetting to limp, he comes across as the more physically challenged of the two of them. Also, McGehee is a great big goofy puppy dog of a guy. You just want to scratch him behind the ears. He is way too endearing to carry off the cold hearted exit of the Gentleman Caller after breaking Laura's heart at the end of the play.
But limp or no limp, this is a thoughtful production mounted by students in their precious spare time because they want to bring this play to life. It is well worth a visit.
The Cap and Bells production of "The Glass Menagerie" will be performed December 3rd, 4th, 9th at 8 PM, and December 5th at 2 PM on the Downstage of the Adams Memorial Theatre, 1000 Main Street in Williamstown. The show runs two and a half hours with one intermission. It is running in repertory with "Little Shop of Horrors" which will be performed December 2nd, 5th, & 10th at 8 PM, December 4th at 2 PM. Tickets for both shows are $5, available at the door. For more information call Cap and Bells at 413-597-2459.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999