By Joe Szekeres
I’m always impressed how non-professional/community theatre companies are inventive in staging twentieth century theatrical classics for a twenty first century audience. It’s necessary to sustain interest in these treasures as they are something to which all actors and productions must and can aspire.
Such is the case with The Village Players’ current production of Tennessee Williams’ classic ‘The Glass Menagerie’, a challenging play to stage. I applaud Director Victoria Shepherd’s creativity as she and the cast, along with a diligent working crew, have created a memory play of poignant and amusing moments of the Wingfield family. Nevertheless, there were a few moments in this production that puzzled me somewhat.
The three-quarter thrust stage of the intimate setting of the Village Playhouse works extremely well for this production. It’s a closed curtain the audience sees upon entrance. From my seat, I could see a few of the glass figurines from Laura’s collection poking out. I loved the big band sound music from the 1930s as pre-show and interval music.
It’s 1937, St. Louis, Missouri. Narrator Tom Wingfield (Jacob Klick) appears from the back of the auditorium and walks to the front of the stage where he begins to tell us a bit about his life. In her Director’s Note, Ms. Shepherd points out “The Glass Menagerie is Williams’ autobiographical work. It is an exorcism of an unshakable past, love letter to his beloved sister, a yearning for change and a fascinating examination of the magic of memory.” Tom makes us candidly aware of Ms. Shepherd’s statement in his opening monologue.
For me, memory plays are fascinating to watch. As we don’t recall every single bit of the setting in which something takes place. The same can be captured on stage. It was pure magic to watch Tom open the curtains to take us back to his family’s home. I don’t want to spoil when a magic effect takes place between Tom and Laura. It worked magnificently and I wondered how it was done, so kudos to consultant Shaun Ferguson.
Alexis Chubbs’ set design nicely fills the stage, but there were some problem areas that I couldn’t see from my seat. For example, I couldn’t see the hanging picture of Tom’s father that is front and centre in the cramped apartment, so I had to look at it during the interval. Laura’s collection of glass figurines is at the apex of the three-quarter thrust stage. I only could see part of it and wished I could see more. This also posed a blocking challenge especially when Laura is present as Amanda and Tom are fighting. Laura should be next to her glass figurines as they give her comfort in times of distress. Instead, she sat at the dining table and watched what was going on with quite a distance between her and the figurines.
I thought the dining room table and other chairs worked well for the period, but the dining room chairs looked too art deco see through plastic and periodically brought me out of the moment. The painting of the fire escape on the back wall worked well as that area signifies outside the apartment. The terrace/fire escape for the Wingfield apartment is at the apex of the three-quarter thrust stage and it worked nicely to focus our attention.
I understand and respect completely for safety precautions of the actors and audience that no cigarettes and candles are lit during the performance. Not a problem there; however, the lighting of the candelabra after the lights go out in the second act needs to be timed sharply. When the audience laughs at the missed timing, you know that must be looked at once again.
Livia Pravato-Fuchs costume designs with assistance by Marcella Pravato, nicely reflected the era. I liked the suit the gentleman caller wore in the second act as it worked well and to John Shubat’s work.
Performances are solid all round for the most part. As narrator Tom Wingfield, Jacob Klick’s lanky stature made me pay careful attention to him upon his first entrance in Act 1 from the rear of the auditorium. Mr. Klick has subtly captured an earnest restlessness within Tom which makes him sometimes unbearable to be around. If you are aware of Tennessee Williams’ personal life, the repetition of Tom’s habitual ‘going to the movies’ possibly meant he was indulging in other opportunities. Mr. Klick captured finely that nebulous and vague side of Tom especially when, at the dinner table, he wishes he could share with his mother so much more about who he is. Mr. Klick’s accent is fine, but he periodically slips away from using it.
As the matriarch of the house, Deena Baltman captures the southern gentility and grace of Amanda, a woman living and thriving on what happened in the past combined with the stark harshness of what the real world holds for her now. Like Mr. Klick, Ms. Baltman tries her best to maintain a consistent Southern accent, but I could hear a bit of North American slip in near the end. Ms. Baltman does not venture over the top in her performance, but I wonder if the audience on this night truly understood that Amanda is a sad character. Yes, there are some funny bits in which she indulges in conversation with others, but Amanda is a woman who lives life through her children and wants them to behave in the way she does. I don’t know if the audience was getting this as the laughter sometimes was uproarious as in a farce. Amanda is not a caricature and Ms. Baltman does not play her as such.
Claire MacMaster is wonderful to watch and to hear as the painfully shy, Laura, older sister to Tom. Ms. MacMaster’s face conveys tremendous emotion throughout her performance. Watch carefully her face as Ms. Baltman scolds for the deception about the business college. My heart was bleeding for Laura and Ms. MacMaster boldly captured that moment. There is a believable chemistry between she and Mr. Klick in their conversation as brother and sister especially when Laura tries to get Tom to apologize to Amanda.
The highlight of the performance for me was the scene in Act 2 between Ms. MacMaster and John Shubat as Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller. This scene was so naturally played from Mr. Shubat’s entrance with the candelabra right to the moment when he leaves the apartment. Highly authentic realism was poignantly captured between Mr. Shubat and Ms. MacMaster who commanded the stage with grace, hope, poise and dignity. Marvelous work here. To say anything more would certainly spoil its beauty for future audiences.
‘The Glass Menagerie’ runs to September 28, 2019 at 2190 E Bloor Street West (just east of Runnymede subway). For more information visit their website.