The Glass Menagerie

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Wil­liams would not have ob­jected. In his orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion notes for his au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal “mem­ory play,” he em­braced the pos­si­bil­i­ties of ex­pres­sion­ism in the telling of this story, and wrote in di­rec­tions for a “screen de­vice” on which words and pic­tures would be pro­jected above the ac­tion, to em­bel­lish or punc­tu­ate ideas. Di­rec­tor Stephen Schip­per runs with that lib­erty, en­list­ing Win­nipeg film­maker Deco Daw­son to de­sign elab­o­rate, old-timey im­ages pro­jected not just on a scrim, but on the chairs and couches of Char­lotte Dean’s sets, to mag­i­cal ef­fect. Such tech­no­log­i­cal em­broi­dery might seem gim­micky if not for the an­chored, metic­u­lously di­rected drama at the core. The Glass Menagerie is the story of the Wing­field clan, or what re­mains of it. Amanda (Kelli Fox) is the ma­tri­arch, a faded south­ern belle valiantly striv­ing to keep go­ing, de­spite the wider depre­da­tions of the Great De­pres­sion, and the more per­sonal in­dig­nity of a hus­band who has long flown the coop, a “tele­phone man who fell in love with long dis­tances.” Left with her are her son Tom, slowly re­belling un­der Amanda’s ma­tri­ar­chal scru­tiny, and Laura (An­drea del Campo), a sickly, frail and patho­log­i­cally shy young woman, dis­tracted by her sad collection of tiny glass an­i­mal fig­urines. Brother and sis­ter en­dure Amanda’s re­mem­brances of her gen­teel south­ern past. But Tom, who sup­ports the fam­ily with a ware­house job, aches for ad­ven­ture be­yond his mother’s reach. Amanda bar­gains with him that he can win his free­dom if he might en­snare a “gen­tle­man caller” for Laura, a man who might take over his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. So Tom de­liv­ers on that prom­ise with his fel­low ware­house worker Jim

Royal Man­i­toba Theatre Cen­tre To March 8 Tick­ets: $25-$75 at www.mtc.mb.ca

out of five O’Con­nor (Tim Ziegler), co­in­ci­den­tally Laura’s high school crush. As in many a fam­ily unit, it is the mother who forms the nu­cleus, and Fox holds the cen­tre here with a strong, sad, droll per­for­mance: her Amanda is a hy­brid of jon­quil and steam­roller. That is not to say Fox dom­i­nates. As her fem­i­nine op­po­site, del Campo im­presses equally. Her Laura is re­tir­ing even when alone on­stage: she seems to want to dis­ap­pear into the walls. When caught in a lie, her face forms a ric­tus as painful as an ex­posed nerve, but when drawn into a con­ver­sa­tion with Jim, she is lu­mi­nous. (It is in­ter­est­ing that the char­ac­ter of Laura, as unique as a uni­corn in the era of the play’s writ­ing, is now a more read­ily iden­ti­fi­able archetype here in the 21st century: the soli­tary fan­ta­sist — a geek.) As Tom (Ten­nessee Wil­liams’ birth name, by the way), Miller also does good work, al­though one wishes his line-de­liv­ery were less mea­sured and more pos­sessed of the Mis­sis­sippi flow of the south­erner. And as that longed-for gen­tle­man caller, Ziegler chan­nels the charm and grace of a by­gone mas­culin­ity. With The Glass Menagerie, Wil­liams ush­ered in a new era in theatre. This pro­duc­tion honours that achieve­ment, with­out cod­dling its legacy in un­ad­ven­tur­ous tra­di­tion.

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