The convention of a memory play — one in which the lead character, who is also the narrator, presents the audience with his or her memories — has been used by a number of playwrights in recent decades (and, some would argue, much earlier in history). The cleverness of a memory play is that it focuses on perspective and identity rather than plain fact. The most famous example of a memory play — and the one in which the term was first coined — is Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, which was first produced in 1944. As with many of Williams’ plays, there are strong autobiographical elements to it, and a character who essentially represents Williams himself. In this case, that character is Tom Wingfield, a restless young man who supports his family (whom he feels burdened by yet duty-bound to) by working a monotonous job that he hates, while yearning for a better life that he glimpses in the poetry he writes and the movies he frequently watches. Tom is also the play’s narrator, warning us that because we are watching a play of his memories, “it is sentimental, it is not realistic”.
The aforementioned family that he lives with in their small St. Louis, Missouri, apartment includes his mother, Amanda, abandoned by Mr. Wingfield and left to raise her children in tough financial times, while struggling to maintain some semblance of a life for herself, often harkening back to her younger years when she was very popular among her peers. Rounding out the Wingfield family is Tom’s sister, Laura, a simple and quiet young woman who has a big heart, but is isolated from the world at large by a deep-seated fear of being inferior thanks to a childhood disease which has left her with a limp.
Melanie Baker and Carey Nicholson’s set works in presenting the essence of a run-down apartment, with its faded wallpaper and its worn sofa covered with blankets to hide years of wear and tear. The show’s fifth character — the photo of Mr. Wingfield — is appropriate in size and detail, although it is unfortunate that there is no mantle below it, contradicting the play’s dialogue about the photo resting above the mantle. The all-important centre of Laura’s world — her glass menagerie — would have had more impact if it was placed closer to the audience or larger in scale; as it was, the menagerie was very difficult to discern.
The use of movement and action by directors Annette Stokes and Michael Serres always felt natural, human, and appropriate. The use of imaginary drinks was an odd choice, particularly in combination with the choice to use real food (which worked well in its own right, particularly in a moment where Amanda chides Tom for wolfing down his food). Costumes were appropriate for the era, particularly Amanda’s formal dress, which felt as out of place and lost in a bygone time as Amanda herself. Michael Serres’ use of music was perfect in setting the mood of each scene.
Liam Lynch shines brightly as Tom. He is instantly charming and charismatic when speaking to the audience. He possesses Tom alternately with a warmth and tenderness seen through Tom’s interactions with Laura, and a fiery countenance that Mr. Lynch expertly keeps brimming at the surface, particularly in the scenes of conflict between Tom and Amanda, only allowing it to boil over in rare moments.
Annette Stokes plays the Williams faded southern belle effectively, particularly in her character’s manic moments or when her outward attempt at pleasantry is in direct conflict with the anguish and/or anger just below the surface. There are a few moments in the play where Ms. Stokes’ volume betrays her, but they are rare.
Lexi MacRae gives a wonderfully understated, inward-facing performance as Tom’s sister, Laura. We see a character who is deeply caring but deathly afraid, as delicate and fragile as the glass figurines she so lovingly cares for. We can see — often with just a glance — Laura’s yearning to be accepted and appreciated doing battle with her fear of ridicule and dismissal particularly in her scenes with Jim O’Connor. One can’t help but feel a strong tug at the heart in the giddy innocence of Laura’s reaction to the kiss from Tom.
Michael Williamson portrays Laura’s Gentelman Caller, Jim, with the right mix of bravado and self-awareness that would be present in a person whose popularity peaked at too young an age. It is in his portrayal of Jim’s uncomfortable and too-late realization of the profound effect he has on Laura that Mr. Williamson’s performance finds its real strength.
The show is being staged until August 12th, 2018 at the beautiful historic Town Hall 1873 in Port Perry, 302 Queen St.
Showtimes are at 7:30 pm on August 15th and 17th, with 2 pm matinees on August 11th and 12th.
The show is approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.