“I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”
So we’re told, by the narrator of Tennessee Williams’ classic play, “The Glass Menagerie.” Breaking the fourth wall, he lets us know this will be a play about memory.
And so it is. Not only do we see reality refracted through the characters’ memories — old and new ones in the making — but we, the audience, are left with the indelible memory of a timeless play. No wonder it’s been staged and filmed so many times over the years. But it’s difficult to imagine a better presentation of this classic than the one presented by Stage Door Players. Consider it unmissable.
Tom Wingfield, our narrator, lives a life of quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) desperation. Cursed with the soul of a poet, he must work a warehouse job to care for an anxious mother and a sister terrified by life. More and more, he escapes into the night, medicating his pain with alcohol and cinematic escape.
But Tom and Amanda, his mother, strike a deal. If he can find a suitable husband for Laura, his sister, he can take off to see the world — just like his father before him. The second act concerns the “gentleman caller” Tom brings to dinner. He’s an outgoing buddy from the warehouse. What no one realizes is that he was once the boy Laura quietly adored in high school.
The four characters, each as finely crafted as the glass creatures in Laura’s menagerie, keep this show gripping until the final moment. Topher Payne, a playwright himself, has an obvious love for this work, and he directs the performance with deep understanding and compassion. Chuck Welcome’s relatively minimal set is the right choice, too: The four characters inhabit dim surroundings within a glaze of memory.
At the center of it all is Amanda Wingfield, brought to life by Shelly McCook, who refuses to bring us the cliché of the faded Southern mama. Like similar matriarchs in the Tennessee Williams world, she needs to be played with humor, force, and compassion. McCook is wonderful.
Jonathan Horne is Tom, who must move in and out of his own memories, our tour guide through a haunted past. Horne is willing to take risks with the role, showing us the simmering fury of the thwarted individualist — so well detailed by the playwright — and the occasional heart-rending eruption.
Katie Causey brings us Laura, the daughter and sister who is paralyzed by her fear of the world and its potential rejection. Playing this role demands supreme patience and subtlety; we need to feel rather than see the terror she feels, and Causey masters the stillness and the unspoken dialogue. Our hearts break for Laura Wingfield.
Finally, Benjamin Strickland is wonderful as Jim, the harbinger of a possibly better future. Jim is struggling to move beyond the bottled memories of high school heroism; he’s self-involved but compassionate, and his presence brings the play to full boil.
J.D. Williams’ lighting design perfectly complements Welcome’s set. Rial Ellsworth’s sound design is delicately understated. And Kathy Ellsworth (properties design), Jim Alford (costume design) and George Deavours (wig design) are spot on and unobtrusive. Rounding out the production team is stage manager Bill Byrne, a stable guiding hand behind the scenes.