If any of you read the preview article you know that history was made at Bloomsburg on Feb. 10 as the oldest theater in the country kicked off its first tour here in our very own Kenneth Gross Auditorium. If that isn’t impressive enough, The Walnut Street Theatre’s performance of “The Glass Menagerie” was absolutely exquisite.
Can I be honest? I don’t think the K.S. Gross Auditorium is an appropriate venue to host anything but maybe a lecture or speech. The stage is small…very small and the lights are hung above the audience on some kind of shiny scaffolding-like structure which is anything but subtle. I just don’t find it fit to hold a production. However this didn’t seem to deter the actors.
The play is written by famed playwright, Tennessee Williams, and has been said to be auto-biographical. Williams has written other master pieces such as, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “A Streetcar named Desire” all of which have been critically acclaimed. But did The Walnut Street Theatre do Williams justice?
I will try my best to summarize the production while focusing on points that I felt were note-worthy.
The opening scene was sheer perfection.
The lights dim in the theatre. The audience becomes hushed. There is a moment of darkness, and then the stage is flooded with white light. On the stage stands our narrator, Tom Wingfield, surrounded by wooden crates of all sizes and furniture covered in white sheets. Tom holds himself with confidence and a sense of familiarity. The audience can tell that these crates are not strange to him. He begins to paint the picture in which the story will take place. He explains that the family, his family, is poor during this time. He whips the sheet off of the couch center stage and a cloud of dust flutters through the air. He is taking the audience back in time, and with removing each sheet, revealing a new set piece. He continues to explain the situation his family, his nagging mother, his father who deserted them, and his crippled sister. He quickly removes the sheet from a small table just left of center stage and revels the glass menagerie. The collection of glass animals gleam in the light and seem to welcome the audience. There is something soothing about them. The play begins.
The rest of the act carried on and we met two other characters:
Laura Wingfield made her first entrance limping in to set the table. She is a hesitant creature; her voice always shaking and muscles always tense. She hardly ever let another characters eye meet her own. Laura is meek to say the least, driven to illness upon any situation that makes her uncomfortable. The only thing she finds comfort in is playing with and polishing her collection of glass animals. They are her prized possessions.
This is an infamously difficult role to play, however Louis’ portrayal of this frail character was near flawless. In fact, when she took her bow at the end of the performance, the person I saw the play with turned to me and said, “Oh my god, she looks so comfortable! It took me off guard! I completely forgot she was acting!” That’s a sentence every actor wishes to hear.
We also met Amanda Wingfield who is a bit of a southern bell…with a control complex. When her husband left her, she had to assume responsibility of the family. In those days it was nearly unheard of for a woman to have a job worthy of supporting an entire family. The strain of poverty and raising two children formed her into a busy body, nagging mother. It is clear, however, that her heart is in the right place and that she simply wants the best for both of her children. She constantly pushes Laura to find a gentleman with which to settle down, however Laura, being who she is, is far too scared to even think about speaking to a man. Amanda also badgers Tom to give up writing and concentrate on his job at the factory so he can support her and his sister.
It is clear that tensions are high in the house, due to the Amanda’s nagging and Tom’s short temper. By the end of the act, emotions explode and Tom storms out of the house breaking one of the glass animals on the shelf on his way out and Laura bursts into tears.
For what act 2 lacked in action and arguments it made up in depth and talent.
Tom and Amanda make up from their fight and Tom agrees to bring home his boss and friend from the factory, Jim. Amanda is overjoyed and begins lavishly decorating the house. Laura is hesitant at first, but Amanda’s stubbornness finally breaks her down.
The next day, Jim comes home with Tom. Laura answers the door at Amanda’s request. Tom introduces his guest. “Laura, I’d like you to meet Jim O’Conner.”
Laura takes one look at him and realizes that Jim is the boy that she had a crush on in high school. She gets sick to her stomach and refuses to join them for dinner, but instead sits alone in the living room.
The next and ending scene of the play is in my belief one of the most beautiful scenes in any straight play I have ever seen or read.
Tom is a confident man, which he accredits to a public speaking class he took in college. He sees how shy Laura is and tries to talk to her, which she wants nothing to do with.
Eventually, the conversation builds and Laura becomes more comfortable. They talk about high school and how Jim used to call her “Blue Roses.” She was out of school She hands him her favorite glass piece, a unicorn, symbolizing her trust. This is the first time the audience has seen her this comfortable since the start of the play.
Tom accidently breaks the unicorn’s horn off while dancing. It is clear in Laura’s face that she is upset, but she forgives him saying that “It’s ok. He looks like the other horses now. Maybe he’ll feel like he fits in more.” Symbolizing how Jim makes Laura feel comfortable and not different because of her limp and awkward demeanor.
The scene builds up to one dramatic point: the kiss. The pair share a passionate moment, however Jim pulls away and announces that he is already seeing another woman.
Obviously, allowing another person to get as close as Laura did Tom took a lot for her. Tom leaves and Laura is left, crying on the couch. The lights fade as Tom closes with a monologue.
The Production was brilliant to say the least. While all of the actors were exquisite, I was most impressed with Louis’ acting. As I mentioned, the role is notoriously difficult and Louis carried it with grace and ease.
The Walnut Street Theatre will be stopping at 17 other venues across the country in its first tour. I can only wish those audiences the enjoyment and entertainment I experienced.