With a subtle glow of light cast upon an abandoned apartment, the sound of a melancholy violin filled the atmosphere, signaling that emotional memories were buried underneath the covered furniture. The play’s narrator, Tom (Darius Dixson ’13), who returned home from military service, walked up the fire escape from the downtown streets through the orchestra pit to discover the deserted home.
When Tom introduced himself, spectators began to wonder how he was going to revive the life that once occupied space. However, once he touched a cover over a chair, he lifted it up gently and the cover gracefully floated away into the sky. I has realized at this moment that Tom was letting us into his memory to observe why the life force in the apartment had vanished. It was 1937, St. Louis, and the Great Depression was still affecting the working middle class. Tom had opened a time capsule to a painful period of the his life.
Produced by the Department of Theatre and Dance and directed by Shirley Huston-Findley, associate professor of theatre, Tennessee William’s classic The Glass Menagerie, beautifully captured the hopeful dreams of a better life and dramatic trials of facing reality. The performance was dedicated to Annetta Gomez-Jefferson, professor emeritus of theatre at the college for more than two decades. Gomez-Jefferson, who was instrumental in developing the curriculum of the theatre and dance department in the ë80s, passed away in Dec. 2009. As noted in the program, The Glass Menagerie was one of her favorite plays that she directed.
The story follows the Wingfield family as they struggle to create a better life for themselves in the tough economic environment. Tom likes poetry, but works at a shoe warehouse. His mother, Amanda (Nina Takacs ’11) constantly nags at him to help find a gentleman caller his sister Laura (Aviva Neff ’14), a very shy and innocent girl who has a limp due to a bad leg. But when Tom brings back his friend Jim O’Connor (Kenny Perry ’13) from the warehouse to meet Laura, the fragile state of her confidence is tested as Amanda tries to help her to muster the courage to get to know Jim and move on with life her life. Everyone’s dream for a more prosperous life is on the line and at the break point.
Dixson served as a great anchor of the show by acting as a profound storyteller. He knew how to carefully broadcast Tom’s poetic interpretation of what happened in the past. He also honestly represented Tom’s bittersweet and emotional recollection of why the dreams of his family fell a part.
While we first saw a basic demonstration of Amanda at the beginning, Takacs delivered an outstanding performance as a mother who tries very hard to provide her daughter a new start at life. She created a multi-dimensional character, one that shot anger at Tom for acting like his father who abandoned their family earlier, and knew how to use Southern charm to get a potential suitor to become interested in Laura.
Neff’s classic beauty helped frame the look and emotional turmoil of her character Laura. You had a sense that you wanted to sympathized with Laura because she wanted to remain in her own world, away from conflict by playing old records and cherishing her glass menagerie collection. Laura was treated very delicately by Neff, who portrayed her as a fragile human being that could emotionally crack at any moment. Though it was understand why her character was emotionally crippled by withdrawing from society, I was hoping that Laura was going to gain the confidence she needed to be happy and free to live in the outside world. Instead, it was heart breaking to watch her most prized possession, a glass unicorn, accidentally break when she was dancing with Jim.
As Jim, Perry did a fine job displaying his character’s intentions. Perry created Jim as a site of hope that was going to help Laura overcome her shyness and self-doubt. In this case, Jim was designed as Laura last hope to integrating successfully into society and not to withdraw back into the apartment. Perry created some wonderful and subtle moments with Neff to illustrate the possibility of Jim giving Laura a chance to live life without anxiety and self-doubt. I was struck by how his character appeared to take genuine interest in Laura and hint at a romance.
The movement and interaction between the characters was well composed by Huston-Findley. There was never a point where I questioned the action taking place on the stage. She did a stellar job in giving life to these unique and tragic characters. The set was alluring with its display of pale green and blue walls, which evenly divided the area into the living room, and dining room. This helped contain the energy from the most profound moments, allowing the characters’ emotions to travel smoothly into the hearts and minds of the audience. While it is not possible to label The Glass Menagerie with a one-word theme, it provided a sad reminder that when the most fragile dreams become shattered, it is extremely difficult to find the thread of hope that kept that dream alive and intact.