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posted Friday, November 9, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 45

Hearts of glass
SRT gives a Tennessee Williams play first-class treatment

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

THE GLASS MENAGERIE SEATTLE REPERTORY THEATRE Through December 2

Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is often read, but much less often performed. The play has an iconic female character in Amanda Wingfield, a displaced Southern belle who married the wrong man and found herself alone with two children in St. Louis. Her now-adult offspring are scarred by life and have reacted in two very different ways.

Tom (Ben Huber) is feeling trapped and suffocated by his boring job at a factory, the unrelenting fact that his income supports his mother and sister, and the constant berating of his loving-but-on-edge mother, which is making the rest of his life untenable. So Tom longs to escape.

Laura (Brenda Joyner) has become cripplingly shy, partly from a disability, and is so afraid of her demanding mother (Suzanne Bouchard) that she would rather wander the city from dawn to dusk than tell her that she has dropped out of secretarial school. Laura's escape is to make stories up about her collection of glass animals (the 'glass menagerie') and to listen to old records over and over again.

Amanda is also trapped, both by a lack of skills to make her own living (besides selling magazine subscriptions to her neighbors) and by her memories of being popular with the opposite sex. She settled on a man who worked for the telephone company and 'fell in love with long distance.' Though he's been gone for years, her husband's portrait hangs over the family as an unspeaking character part.

ILL-FATED MATCHMAKING
Amanda has begun to pressure Tom into helping his sister find a husband, asking him to haul a factory worker home to dinner. Tom announces that he has asked Jim over for the next evening, putting the women into a frantic hurry to fix everything nicely beforehand. Jim (Eric Riedmann) turns out to be an old high school crush of Laura's - which exacerbates her terror at his coming to her house.

The play, as directed by Braden Abraham, does not demonize Amanda as is so often done, making her a fright of a mother. Instead, Abraham and Bouchard create a realistic portrait of a woman on the edge, who loves her children but has no real understanding of how to communicate with them. Certainly, she is not able to fix any of their problems. Bouchard, as Amanda, earns every moment of anger and frustration and is masterful in her command of the role.

Riedmann does a great job as the unsuspecting Jim, who comes into this strange home with the 1930s fellow-looking-for-the-next-chance attitude of a young man on the rise. But he also perceives Laura's inhibitions and is able to tease her out of her shyness. He handles with an easy grace the moment when he has to let Laura down gently.

The actors all imbue their characters with real and accessible flaws. It's a moody atmosphere, accentuated with a gauze curtain over the back of the living space in Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams' simple living-room set and eerie lighting from L.B. Morse. A subtle soundscape by Obadiah Eaves brings in quiet period music to underscore scenes. The lovely costumes by Frances Kenny have their pinnacle in the moment when Amanda wears her ancient debutante costume, revealing the gay belle underneath the tension.

The sure-handed directing of Abraham is undercut just a little by having the fire escape visible only with lighting and doubling as the normal doorway. Putting the main entrance/exit on the other side of the stage might help matters.

Seattle Rep has brought this play into the emotional grasp of an audience by avoiding caricature. It's a well-made, well-played, handsome production. For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call (206) 443-2222. (Note: There are many cigarettes smoked in this play. They are fake.)

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com, or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.



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