Do not go to The Glass Menagerie at Ford’s Theatre on Valentine’s Day. It’s not a feel good play. It’s not a feel good theater. It’s an appropriate marriage but may hurt your relationship on the most romantic day of the year.
Tennessee William’s 1944 kitchen sink drama is in the midst of a fine production at the legendary Ford’s Theatre. Three of the four principal actors, Tom Story as Tom Wingfield, Jenna Sokolowski as Laura Wingfield and Thomas Keegan as Jim O’Connor are well cast and each does a fine job in their substantial role. The performance that really stands out is Madeleine Potter as matriarch Amanda Wingfield. With Helen Hayes Awards nominations announced this week, it’s easy to think Potter has a chance at an Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play nomination next year.
The stage set up is unique and unnecessary. The Glass Menagerie could be well executed in a simple black box theater. There’s no need for it to be on a large stage. There’s no need for there to be mounds of 10 feet tall discarded school desks on both sides of the stage. A projector isn’t needed. But they don’t hurt. The desks actually are a great addition to the play. The projections, not so much. Before the play begins Tom is watching a movie reel from the 40s, mostly trailers and news footage. The show begins when his movies turn into an image of his sister. Act 1 ends with more footage of his sister. Act 2 begins with footage of Jim and the play ends with footage of Amanda and Laura. We don’t need it. The actors are fine on stage in front of us, we don’t need to see them projected as well.
It’s a credit to the actors when they’re able to transport you from the place where America’s greatest president was assassinated to a small apartment in St. Louis. Each performer does it, especially in a near intimate interaction between Laura and Jim. It’s difficult to stay in that cramped St. Louis apartment when projections come into the play.
In the definite text edition of the play, the reader learns that Tennessee Williams’ sister Rose had undergone a prefrontal lobotomy soon after the playwright left for Hollywood. His feelings are what this play is about. Guilt, travel, success, failure, imprisonment in an apartment, job, family. It’s a great play and a good production and most likely what you want to avoid on February 14.
Featured image Madeleine Potter as Amanda and Jenna Sokolowski as Laura. Photo by Scott Suchman.