Love and Disability play out on Lakewood stage

February 26, 2018

“The Glass Menagerie” opened Feb. 16 at the Lakewood Playhouse. This iconic production reflects the personal life of the playwright Tennessee Williams.

The Glass Menagerie has been playing for audiences since the play’s first production in 1944. Since then there have been two Hollywood adaptations of the play. The first movie came out in 1950 and the second in 1987 (directed by Paul Newman and starring his wife Joanne Woodward as Amanda). Unfortunately, both films failed to capture the essence of the play and failed at the box office.

The Lakewood Playhouse production of “The Glass Menagerie” directed by Micheal O’Hara is a stunning adaptation that will touch your heart and leave you feeling compassion for the actors in the play.

The setting is in the Wingfield apartment in  St. Louis in 1937. A sofa, dining room table, and a cabinet for Laura’s glass animals provide the backdrop for the unfolding drama. The production also makes clever use of a candelabrum with three lit candles for the scene where the electricity is turned off in the Wingfield apartment. The whole theater was dark except for the three candles.

The play uses four characters to tell the story.

Tom Wingfield, played by Niclas Olson, is a narcissistic factory worker who has little compassion for his family. Instead of spending nights with his family he keeps “going to the movies.”

Amanda Wingfield, played by Dayna Childs (with a convincing Texas accent) is a faded Southern belle who longs for the days long ago when she was a debutante attending parties and balls.

Jess Weaver makes a stunning acting debut as Laura Wingfield, Amanda’s daughter, and Nick Fitzgerald brings talent and charm to his role as Jim O’Conner, a friend and “gentleman caller” who comes over for a visit to the Wingfield apartment.

The plot of Williams’ play involves Amanda’s efforts to find a husband for her daughter Laura, an extremely shy young woman who has retreated into an almost autistic-like existence polishing her collection of glass animals all day. The source of Laura’s mental fragility is her physical condition – she is crippled. The play explains her affliction as having one leg shorter than the other. The implication is that Laura has polio, since they talk about her having to wear a brace.

Amanda is convinced that Laura must have a man to provide for her since Laura is unwilling to go to school and find a career. Amanda insists that Tom should go to the factory and find a “gentleman caller” for Laura. Tom obliges by bringing home an Irishman named Jim O’Conner with whom he is best friends with in the factory.

In a most ironic twist of fate, Jim turns out to be the one boy Laura had a crush on in high school. When watching the interaction between the two actors playing Jim and Laura, one gets the strong impression that they belonged together. Jim is kind and sensitive to Laura. He tries to help her see what a beautiful person she is despite having a disability. The affection displayed by Fitzgerald toward Weaver appears so authentic that the heartbreak when Laura learns that Jim is engaged to another woman it hits the audience like a ton of bricks. There is no happy ending in “The Glass Menagerie.”

Williams’ play is a commentary on the fact that sometimes life can be harsh to the most vulnerable people in this world. “The Glass Menagerie” is much like a Greek tragedy in that it makes you feel compassion for the players even after the play is over.

The show will run until March 11. Show times are Fridays and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. There will be a special showing Thursday, March 1 at 8 p.m. – an actor’s benefit night, with admission price as a “Pay what you can” with a $5 minimum. More information regarding ticket prices and location can be found at lakewoodplayhouse.org.

 

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